Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff


Buying a Network/IP Camera

Network cameras are unlike their webcam siblings in that they are self-contained, IP-addressable units that can operate without an attached PC.  Generally speaking, they have a built-in web server and an FTP client.  They often support telnet and DDNS (Dynamic DNS) as well.  Most also have a small amount of memory.  They are, basically, small computers with a wired or wireless Ethernet connection and a camera.  Oh yeah, as you might expect, they are also a lot more expensive than web cameras.

While I am certainly no expert, I have installed 5 network cameras for personal use to date and have learned enough to know that I’d do it differently if I were to start all over again.  Hopefully, my experience may help others get to their ideal solution faster.

The feature sets of these cameras are difficult to compare on an apples-to-apples basis.  There are cameras made for homes and small businesses and there are cameras made for industrial use and video surveillance.  Knowing what’s important to you before diving in will save you a lot of time and, probably, money.  For example, if you just want to see if a moving van is parked in front of your house being loaded with all your worldly possessions while you’re away, you probably don’t need a camera with a large sensor, high resolution and a lightning fast frame rate.  If, however, your camera is looking out at Old Faithful in Yosemite, you probably want the best video at the highest resolution possible so that you get the most breathtaking pictures possible.  You get the idea.

With that here are the basics . . .

At the remote site, where the camera is located, you’re going to need:

  • Power – we’re talkin’ 120V 60Hz type power (in the US, at least) – these cameras can’t run off the measly power from a USB port
  • A computer or a good router that lets you play with port mapping
  • A weatherproof enclosure for the camera if it’s going to be exposed to the elements and it doesn’t come with one
  • A wireless access point (can be your router, of course) if you’re going wireless
  • A backup power source (UPS, etc – completely optional, but some of these cameras don’t handle hard reboots very well)

Also, at some central location (which because of the wonders on the Internet, doesn’t even have to be on the same continent as your camera), you’ll need a computer or web server where you’ll view the output of the camera or consolidate its images and/or video feeds.

If any of these things seems foreign to you, now would be a good time to hire someone to set your system up, reassess your desire to take on this project, or allocate a lot more time to the project than you ever expected (see The Bower Factor).

Now, how do you choose which camera to use.  Here are the basic questions about functionality you need to ask yourself, IMO . . .

  • Technical details – sensor size, frame rate, resolution – the best cameras have larger sensors (1/2″) with high resolutions (3MP) and really fast frame rates (250 frames/sec).  If your pictures/video are going to be evidence at a trial or your video is going to be used by National Geographic, then you want to maximize all of these.  Smaller sensors (1/4″) shooting sub-one megapixel images at one frame/sec are often fine for what you need and cost a lot less.
  • Do you need audio with your video?  Many cameras have either a built-in microphone, or a connector to control one.
  • Is the camera for outdoor use?  If so, get a camera made for it, not one that needs to be put in a case.  The outdoor enclosure will add size, complexity, weight, etc.
  • How are you going to power it?  If it’s hard to get to or far from power, you need it to use POE (Power Over Ethernet – where power is run through you CAT5/6 cable).  Most cameras do not have this feature.  Some cameras have custom cables that bundle separate power and communication cables.  Not as elegant and more expensive, but work just as well.
  • What do you want out of the camera, stills or video?  This is a tough one.  Most cameras won’t let you query them for a still image without using their own software (you can almost always get a dynamic image from any camera if you use the manufacturers application or access the web server inside the camera from a browser).  This prevents you from putting the image up on your own site.  Most cameras do, however, have a trigger for timed FTP uploads of images so you can have an image sent to your computer/server at specified intervals.  Video handling can be even tougher and many manufacturers require that you use their custom application.  If putting video in your custom application or web site is what you want, make sure that the camera lets you do it.
  • Do you want motion triggering (a picture or video is taken when motion is detected)?  Not all cameras have this and it’s useless for outdoors (if there is almost constant motion in the background – think trees, animals, people).  This feature is great for security purposes where you’re actually looking for motion.
  • Do you want pan and zoom?  If you want to be actively involved in what the camera is pointed at and it changes, you want this feature.  Most often, you need to use the camera’s web page or the manufacturers custom application to control it.  These features also add to the complexity and price.  But, if you need it, you need it.  Make sure you look up user reviews about the particular pan and zoom camera you’re looking at.  There are loads of cameras that fail with bad motors.
  • Do you need wireless?  Before just choosing to go this way, think about the bandwidth you’ll need to feed live video (yes, it is highly compressed).  How far are you from your access point?  How good is the signal?  You know the deal here.
  • Do you need to see what’s going on without much light?  All cameras struggle with low light.  Some handle it better than others.  If you’re buying cheap, make sure you get a camera that switches over to black and white images as the light gets weak instead of just continuing to struggle with color.  For comparison purposes, check out the lux (light sensitivity) of the camera.  The lower the number, the better it’s supposed to handle low-light conditions.
  • How much do you want to spend?  These cameras can get expensive fast.  You’ll need to balance your desire for the features in this list with the size of your wallet.

In terms of specific manufacturers, I can’t claim any particular expertise.  I’ve tried cameras from a variety of manufacturers and I can’t say that any one has stood out.  In fact, I could list fairly significant problems with each camera I’ve tried.  My biggest issue has been that I only began to understand the features and what I actually needed from the cameras as I began to put them in place and get them working. Thus, this list.  Hopefully, it’ll help you figure out which cameras meet your needs right out of the box instead of having to buy-and-try like I did.

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 April 5th, 2008  
 Gadgets, Photography  

Gadget Review: Jawbone Bluetooth Headset

I’ve tried several Bluetooth headsets before, always punting on them because they didn’t connect with the phone well, had crappy battery life or let in too much background noise to have a reasonable conversation.  Disappointed with the poor performance of the devices, I bagged them completely and chose to use a wired headset or just none at all.  So when Bijan mentioned the Jawbone a couple of months ago, I yawned and didn’t give it a second thought.  Then one day, after almost killing myself while on the phone in the car, I decided that I had to give it a try.  Now that I’ve used it for a month, I’m a complete convert.

This thing is a noise-canceling monster.  It’s almost unreal how it cuts out background noise without much of a penalty to the spoken word.  I’ve made calls and rolled down the windows at 50mph and the person on the other end had no idea.  Yesterday, I was in a torrential downpour that caused a racket in the car, but again, the person on the other end didn’t hear anything but my voice.  There’s a cool demo on the Jawbone site where they demonstrate the performance with lawnmowers, jackhammers and assorted other noisemakers.  It really works that way.  Cool.

Voice isn’t perfect, it’s a little clipped, but no more than with other noise-canceling headsets.  I also have a couple of gripes.

  • There’s a little rubber nib on the face side of the headset that is supposed to rest against your cheek while you talk.  If it doesn’t, sound quality degrades to unacceptable levels.  With the standard ear bud and hoop (see picture, above), I couldn’t get the thing to rest against my cheek without leaning my head to one side and letting gravity give it a hand.  Perhaps it’s my rugged, superhero-like chiseled jaw shape that caused the fitting problem, but it became pretty annoying.  To the manufacturer’s credit, they ship the Jawbone with a myriad of ear buds and hoops in a variety of shapes and sizes.  After loads of trial and error, I finally found a combination that was better, but not perfect.  It now rests on my cheek for the most part, but even aggressive driving causes a gap between my cheek and the device in corners.
  • The Jawbone is yet another device that that requires a custom charger connector.  There appears to be plenty of room for a mini-USB connector, but the manufacturer chose to go another way.  Just a waste, IMO.

Battery power has not been a problem.  I have yet to run it down, so I don’t really know its bounds yet.  I’ve used it for a couple of days without charging, which is all I really need, so I don’t see it as a problem – as long as you’re carrying the stupid custom charger.

Overall, this headset is simply outstanding.  The drawbacks are minor nits compared to the quality of the device and the great job it does.  Highly recommended.  You can get it directly from their web site or through Cingular (you don’t need a Cingular phone).

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 May 19th, 2007  

Gadget Review: Samsung Blackjack (SGH-i607)

Samsung Blackjack A couple of months ago, I traded in my Palm Treo 700W for a Samsung Blackjack and I’ve fallen so deeply in love I’m thinking of formalizing my bond with my new phone and, since I live in Massachusetts, I think it’s legal.  The phone is small, relatively fast, has a great keyboard and fairly good reception.

On this last part, the phone doesn’t get perfect grades because part of my phone swap meant that I had to leave behind Verizon and adopt Cingular/AT&T.  Verizon has much better coverage in the places that I spend time so this phone, by definition, doesn’t do as well.  I can say that compared to other GSM phones I’ve had in the past, though, this phone’s reception seems quite good.

When scanning the web for thoughts on this phone, it’s clear that people are confused that Windows-powered mobiles come in two varieties – Pocket PC and Smartphone.  There are some differences in OS/software functionality between the two, but the primary difference is that the Pocket PC version is for phones with a touch screen and the Smartphone version is for phones without it.  So, saying that a “complaint” with the Blackjack, which is a Smartphone, is that it doesn’t have a touch screen is silly, since it’s not even in that category.

Since I rarely used the touch screen in my Treo, not having one was hardly a loss.  In fact, to accommodate the lack of touch screen, the Blackjack is fully setup for one-handed operation with loads of programmable buttons and a scroll wheel (ala Blackberry).  Certainly, this is a matter of personal preference, but I think this is a much better setup.  My desire is to have a phone primarily with messaging functionality a close second (SMS and email).  Other functions like looking at someone’s 100 slide Powerpoint presentation are much lower priority.

So, after a couple of months, here are the pros and cons I’ve observed:


  1. Light and amazingly thin
  2. Good keyboard with easy to access special characters
  3. Many function buttons on top and sides of device – all easily programmable
  4. Scroll wheel
  5. Great Bluetooth stack – connects with everything when and where I want it to
  6. Windows Mobile (personal preference, but I like the fact that there are tons of software packages available and I can even write them myself pretty easily)
  7. Good reception – both voice and data (I get 3G most places and fall back to EDGE and GPRS as necessary)
  8. GSM – simply a better way of doing things and makes the phone international
  9. SD card slot – an extra GB of memory for storing stuff makes life a bit easier


  1. Smaller display than I’d like
  2. Horizontal aspect ratio of display – I’d prefer a vertical orientation
  3. Not available on Verizon’s network (I know this contradicts item 8, above, but Verizon’s reception in the US is just better)
  4. The stupid lump on the back of the phone is for the useless (to me) camera.

There is no WiFi on the device.  I don’t consider it a con, but some might.  High speed 3G/EDGE reception is better these days, so there’s connectivity almost everywhere.  Also, I’ve dropped this thing several times . . . on pavement.  Other than some scratches, it’s no worse for the wear.

One final note is about battery life.  The one warning I got from people before moving to the Blackjack was that it had crappy battery life.  Samsung even ships an “extended” battery with it to deal with the problem.  My observations have been that battery life has been pretty good.  I’ve never used the extended battery since the standard one is all I need for a full day out of it with constant use, and a couple of days in standby.  MUCH better than the 700W.  For sure, this isn’t what you’d expect from a phone that’s just a phone, but to me, if I can get all the functionality that this device offers with one recharge in the evening, I’m a happy camper.

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 May 7th, 2007  

Gadget Review: Oakley Thump Pro

Oakley Thump ProI’ve thought about buying a pair of Oakley Thumps for a couple of years now but have talked myself out of it because they were too:

  1. Expensive
  2. Heavy
  3. Short on memory
  4. Likely to be used while cycling

The new Thump Pro version takes care of a few of these objections.  Enough of them, in fact, to compel me to pull the trigger on trading a swipe of my credit card for a pair.  I’ve had them for a couple of weeks now and I like them a lot.

Capacity is up to 1GB which, while not huge, is enough to cover the need for tunes during whatever sport you’re up to.  They’re also a bit lighter.  In fact, they feel pretty comfortable, even wearing them while bouncing around on a bike.  They do not feel like a pair of regular sunglasses, though.  You feel the additional heft and size almost always.  It’s just not obtrusive.  Oh yeah, they’re still not cheap.  You could buy a truckload of 1GB MP3 players for the price of these things.

So why buy them?  In my case, corded headphones can be a bit tough to manage on a bike.  More than once, I’ve dropped an earbud which immediately threaded it’s cord through my spokes or crank.  It’s amazing how fast small electronics components can be eaten by pointy objects spinning at 100 RPM or so.  And yes, I know that it’s dangerous to ride a road bike while listening to music and blocking out the sound of traffic around you (thus my fourth objection, above).  You’re not my mother.

There are two nice features that I really like about the Thump Pros:

  1. There is zero complexity to managing songs and playlists on the device.  Once plugged in (through mini USB as God intended all devices like this to use), the device looks like a disk drive to the operating system.  Just copy the files you want over to the device.  No special software no fancy syncing, just drag and drop.  If you want a playlist, create a directory.  Couldn’t be easier.  If you want to use music management software, that’ll probably work too (I used J. River Media Center and it worked great), but it’s not required.
  2. The earbud things are connected to the glasses with one swing arm and two almost-universal joints giving the user the ability to position them almost anywhere in space.  If you’re ears are like Dumbo’s or Spock’s, they’ll fit.  I like the flexibility because it makes them easy to quickly move out of the way when you’re trying to here the Peterbuilt coming up quickly on your tail and because they help keep the glasses firmly planted on your head when you push the earbuds closer to your brain.

Having lost most of my hearing at concerts in the 70s and 80s, the volume isn’t quite as high as I’d like, but it’s more than reasonable.  So far, I’m likin’ ’em.  My long rides have been more fun and the Doobie Brothers are even helping me ride a little faster.

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 May 3rd, 2007  

Gizmodo’s Boycott the RIAA Month

Moving from its everyday world of lusting after and reporting on shiny new technology to taking a stand on what is good and evil, one of my favorite gadget sites, Gizmodo, has declared March as Boycott the RIAA month.

This isn’t the first time that Gizmodo has railed against the RIAA.  As they stated before in their post, RIAA Wants to Kill Open WiFi, Puppies, Babies, “[the RIAA is] continuing their non-stop campaign to ruin everything that is good in the world.”  Gizmodo claims that the RIAA is the Darth Vader of free speech and privacy and “it’s about time we stopped merely bitching and moaning and did something about it.”

From Gizmodo’s post . . .

“We want to get the word out to as many people as humanly possible that we can all send a message by refusing to buy any album put out by an RIAA label. Am I saying you should start pirating music? Not at all. You can continue to support the artists you enjoy and respect in a number of ways.

Firstly, I encourage everyone to purchase music from unsigned bands and bands on independent record labels. There are tons of great artists out there, many of which you’re probably already a fan of, that have nothing to do with the RIAA. Buy their records at eMusic, an online store that sells independent tunes in beautiful, DRM-free MP3 format.

Secondly, you can still support RIAA-signed bands without buying their music. Go see them live and buy their merchandise; they get a hell of a lot more money from that then they do from album sales. And hey, you could benefit from getting out more, couldn’t you?

If you are unsure whether or not an album is put out by an RIAA label, the handy RIAA Radar will clear everything up for you. They have both a search engine and a great bookmarklet, so be sure to get yourself hooked up.”

You go, Gizmodo!  I’m in.  Let’s see if I can compel my kids to do the same.

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 February 26th, 2007  
 Gadgets, Misc Thoughts  
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DOD’s New Heat-Beam Weapon – How to Get Rid of Those Pesky Neighborhood Kids

The US Department of Defense just announced that its new “Heat-Beam,” non-lethal weapon will be available for use as early as 2010.  Apparently, this weapon can raise skin temperature to over 130 degrees from a distance of almost two football fields.  The evil-doer that is subjected to the beam feels a blast, like from a hot oven, that is a bit, say, uncomfortable.

From the announcement . . .

“Existing counter-personnel systems designed not to kill—including bean bag munitions and rubber bullets—work at little more than ‘rock-throwing distances,’ said Marine Col. Kirk Hymes, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate.”

It’s good to know that the Pentagon has a “Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate.”  I’d hate to think that all that money is wasted on just lethal weapons.

“The weapon, mounted on a Humvee, uses a large rectangular dish antenna to direct an invisible beam toward a target. It includes a high-voltage power unit and beam-generating equipment and is effective at more than 500 meters.”

High-voltage?  Duh!  They must be using Dr. Emmit Brown’s flux capacitor to get the jigowatts of power required.

“Documents given out during the demonstration said more than 10,000 people had been exposed to the weapon since testing began more than 12 years ago. They said there had been no injuries requiring medical attention during the five-year advanced development program.”

So, what other kinds of injuries took place?

There’s part of me that would love to work at a DOD research facility.  If this is the stuff that comes out, I’d be interested in what doesn’t make it past the research phase.  My imagination just isn’t broad enough.

 January 27th, 2007  
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Boeing Goes “First Light” with 747 Death Star Laser Add-On

We don’t need no stinkin’ planet-sized vehicle to tote our laser around . . .

According to a Boeing press release, the company has begun initial testing of its Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL).  The Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) program (what is it with military contractors and acronyms?) includes switching on the laser for a short period in order to avoid total planetary destruction like what occurred during the Death Star’s first test on Princess Leia’s home planet of Alderon.

The system is apparently designed so that jets equipped with the weapon can disable chemical and nuclear missiles before they can arm their warheads, while providing peace of mind for passengers and pilots – civilian and military.  Various reports state that the anti-missile laser will be mounted on 747s and is designed to shoot down missiles from hundreds of miles away. 

According to a Boeing spokesperson:

“ATL will transform the battlefield by giving the warfighter a speed-of-light, precision engagement capability that will reduce collateral damage dramatically . . .”

But what about turbulence?  Isn’t firing a laser from a bouncing aircraft a hundred miles from its target sorta like relying on a sniper with Parkinson’s disease?

This is old news, anyway.  A bunch of college students already had this working in the 1985 movie, Real Genius.


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 November 1st, 2006  

The Future is Here – The HoverMower


Consuming fewer jigawatts of power than a late model DeLorean, the HoverMower by Eastman Industries appears to have been delivered straight from the future.  According to the web site:

“The HoverMower floats effortlessly on a cushion of air; without any wheels it mows in any direction following the contour of the land.”

I want to know how you control this beast when you’re mowing across the grain on a steep slope.  Doesn’t all 40 pounds of it want to move down the hill instead of across it?

It’s good to know someone’s still innovating in this area.  Now, if it were just powered by a small Mr. Fusion reactor . . .


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 October 10th, 2006  
 Gadgets, Stuff with a Motor  
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Gadget Review – Griot’s Garage Orbital Polisher

For years, I’ve been afraid to polish my cars.  Polishing involves using abrasives to basically strip off the top few microns (or more) of paint – eliminating small, surface scratches and filling in some deeper ones.  Ideally, this is terrific.  A good polishing job can make your car look brand new.  The problem is that polishing by hand is a time-consuming, back-breaking job and doing it with a machine, well, you might as well just use sandpaper.

I’ve seen bad machine polishing jobs.  They leave swirl marks and all kinds of colored effects from the heat generated between the polishing pad and the paint.  So, my FoP (Fear of Polishing) has resulted in my cars’ paint looking increasingly crappy the longer I own them.

I have been a big fan of Griot’s Garage car care products for many years.  I’ve seen their polishing system, including their orbital polisher, in their catalog with a picture of Richard Griot (owner) putting all his weight on the polisher while working on his prized Ferrari Dino to demonstrate how safe the device was.  But even this demonstration did nothing to quell my FoP.

Last month, though, a detailer told me that it was great and that he used it on cars all the time, so I decided to give the polisher a try.  Yesterday, I polished out some fairly deep scratches in my flat, gloss black (about as challenging as you get) truck.  It worked great!  The scratches are mostly gone and there is zero evidence of swirl marks or discoloration.  Using the polisher requires a little elbow grease, but not too much.  I was totally impressed.

Thanks to Griot’s Garage, my FoP is now gone.  If you’re at all anal about how your car looks or you just want to show your prized vehicle a little TLC, I highly recommend you check this baby out.  Let’s eliminate FoP in our lifetime.


 October 4th, 2006  

Gadget Review – Garmin Edge 305

I admit it, I’m a data junkie.  I’m a firm believer in the fact that you can’t improve what you can’t measure.  So, I measure everything I can – it’s much cheaper than getting professional help with my obsession.  In cycling, my favorite activity, there are loads of things to measure in the hope of improving performance – power (wattage), heart rate, speed, cadence, ascent/time, elevation, temperature, wind speed, etc.  I’m constantly on the lookout for tools to help me capture this data.  For a few years now, I’ve relied on my trusty HAC4 cycling computer to collect this information.  This spring, though, Garmin delivered its second generation of cycling GPS devices that looked to add even more information gathering capabilities to my cycling experience.  I had to have one.

The Garmin Edge 305 is first, a GPS device.  Unlike previous Garmin cycling computers, though, it adds many other functions in addition to its GPS capabilities.  It is larger than most cycling computers, but it’s not too large to mount on your stem.  Unlike most computers, it is completely wireless, too.  The speed/cadence sensor is mounted on the rear wheel and are a combined unit.  I purchased the combo (package pictured above) – it includes the head unit, the speed/cadence sensor and the heart rate strap, but you can buy the head unit by itself or separately with just HR or cadence.

When combined with the included Garmin Training Center software (runs on your PC), it is a nice data gathering system that lets you capture data on speed, cadence, ascent/descent, elevation, HR as well as drawing a map of your journey using Garmin’s own mapping software.  When combined with Garmin’s MotionBased online service (free for basic use), you also get a very nice implementation of Google Maps to show your ride route.

HR vs. Elevation from Garmin Training Center

Because of an injury earlier this year, I haven’t gotten in nearly as many miles as I usually do.  I did, however, have a chance to use the Edge 305 in Europe for a week (without HR or cadence) and on several rides in the last few weeks (used as a whole system).  Here are my observations:


  • Very small device for so much functionality
  • GPS locks onto satellites quickly (uses new SiRFstarIII receiver)
  • No wires!
  • Atmospheric altimeter – previous devices used GPS triangulation to calculate altitude which was usually wildly incorrect.  This is much better, although is never completely accurate (my HAC4 was much better at this)
  • Speed sensor takes over for GPS in measuring speed when GPS loses signal – required for the type of rides I do where many of the streets are densely tree-lined
  • Stores track and elevation data so that you can use it to race against yourself or just use it for navigation (no visual map, just the path)
  • Configurable displays – a huge number of choices for what data is displayed on each page of the display
  • Garmin Training Center and MotionBased are very easy to use with a quick and easy USB connection between your PC and Edge 305


  • Heart rate measurement issues – you can’t see it in the graph above, but my heart rate was, apparently, >240 bpm for a while.  I have a high max HR, but it obviously isn’t that high.
  • When the GPS is blocked and the unit is relying on the speed sensor, it seems to be reading the speed a couple of MPH too low.  This may be a calibration issue – it judges the diameter of the wheel with a GPS reading.
  • Both my HR strap and my speed/cadence sensor were DOA out of the box.  After no response from Garmin customer support when I sent multiple emails, I stuck it out on the phone for a while and they agreed to send me new units.  These worked as advertised.
  • Batteries – the batteries in my HR strap and speed/cadence sensor were dead when I got them.  The battery in the speed/cadence sensor has drained on me twice in my limited use already.  This thing clearly suck a lot of power.  Expect to replace them often (standard CR23032 batteries)
  • Head unit battery life is not great – about a century worth.  Depending on how you use it, I wouldn’t expect more than 8 hours at the max.
  • MotionBased doesn’t accept an upload without GPS data – can’t capture information for a ride on a trainer, for example.  Garmin Trainer Center works fine for this.
  • No temperature (minor nit – MotionBased looks temp up when you upload)

While the cons outnumber the pros, I still like this device.  It’s not hugely better than my HAC4 was, though. Of course, if you’re in to the GPS data, there is no comparison – there are loads of things you can do with the GPS data that simply wasn’t even available on other devices.  Consider the price, which is high, along with your real need or desire for GPS data as part of your data-gathering before you jump to this unit.  It’s cool . . . just not a slam-dunk.

 September 17th, 2006  
 Cycling, Gadgets