Product Review: FQ777 951C Mini Drone

So this is the last of my recent drone purchases.  I actually got this one from Bang Good.com, and it shipped from Thailand in about three weeks (a week earlier than they said on the site, so that’s something!). I got it for right around $20, so I saved about $5 over Amazon (click that link and it will take you right to the drone, selling now for $22).  You have to decide if the wait is worth it. It’s TINY, but it has a camera, so I decided to give it  a try. Continue reading

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Product Review: SkyCo M71 Quadcopter

This is the first quadcopter I bought for myself – my X5UC was via Amazon Vine, so I didn’t have to pay for it. The M71 runs about $40 on Amazon, but I found it on eBay for less than half that, so BONUS. PLUS – it’s a quadcopter that LOOKS like a tricopter – it kinda reminds me of a Star Trek starship, with the warp nacelles in the back and the saucer section up front. If I’m honest, that’s really why I got this one. Continue reading

Product Review: SYMA X20 Mini Quadcopter

So I mentioned in my X5 review that I’d spent some money on drones for my kids. This is the one they got (I found them at Rural King for $20, though the Amazon price is a bit higher). They are small enough that I can hold the whole thing in the palm of my hand, and they are a lot of fun. Continue reading

Product Review: SYMA X5-UC Quadcopter

So, I’ve recently gotten the opportunity to test out this drone, and had a pretty good time doing it. I’d never flown one before, but after this one I’m DEFINITELY planning on flying more! This is one example of an Amazon Vine item actually costing me money – I’ve spent another $70 or so on quadcopters since I received this one (to be fair, $40 of it was on drones for my kids). Continue reading

Back from the Dead?

I’m dusting things off here and I’m getting ready to open back up for business, so to speak. It’s been two years, almost, and a bunch has happened. Suffice to say I’m ready to start posting reviews here! I’ll probably start with posting a few of my better Amazon Vine reviews (I’ve gotten some REALLY cool stuff from them), and them some more recent things I’ve gotten to review.

I’m also going to talk a bit about some electronics projects I”m working on (or thinking of working on). Hoping to be a bit more regular and productive around here in the near future, so stay tuned!

MY Top Android Apps

Everybody writes their Top Ten Android Apps that You Have to Have on Your New Smartphone lists each year, and invariably they list apps that I would never use, don’t need, or something like that.  So I’m going to post MY list.  These are the apps that I install first on any new device I have, whether it’s a new phone, or a tablet, or what.  Most of them I also have installed on my iPad, so they’re not necessarily Android only.

For some background – I am a bi-vocational pastor.  I pastor a small church, and also teach technology at the local elementary school.  Both of these jobs influence what I consider must-haves.  This is something that the other lists won’t tell you — they will just assume that you are just like them, and have the same needs they do.  So as I list my apps, I’ll tell you why they are there.

  1. The Bible App from YouVersion:  This is essential for me as a pastor.  It’s not a study resource – I don’t really do major sermon prep with YouVersion’s app, but I DO constantly review the text I’m preaching from.  The more you read it, the better off you are, when it comes to preaching a text, and YouVersion’s Bible app lets me do that.  It also has some GREAT reading plans – and not all of them are a full year.  There are great topical reading plans that may only last a few weeks or even a few days.  And there are always Lent and Advent plans that are must reads.
  2. Evernote:  I have to have this to stay organized.  Combine this with the Evernote Web Clipper plugin for Chrome and you’ve got a powerful tool.  Whenever I read something that sparks an idea for a sermon, it goes in the Evernote folder marked Future Sermons.  All of my sermon notes go in the Sermon Notes folder, with tags for the book of the Bible I preached from.  On the teaching side, lesson plan ideas go in their own folder, as do my finished plans and a scope and sequence for each school year.  I’ve also got a LOT of tech-related articles that I need to have constant access to, as well as network-specific information for the school (proxy addresses, network printer IP numbers, etc.).  I tell people all the time that Evernote is my brain, and I honestly couldn’t function well without it.
  3. feedly:  I have a LOT of RSS feeds, and I’m old-school enough that I want them in a reader.  I used Google Reader until they shut it down (WHY, GOOGLE, WHY?!), and then in a panic I went hunting and found feed.ly.  It works really well, though integration with Evernote requires a pro account, and it let me import my Google Reader settings when I signed up.  Most importantly, it’s easy to use.
  4. Dropbox:  I have accounts with several cloud storage places (Box, Mozy, Google Drive) and have apps for all of those.  But Dropbox is the one I download first.  It integrates seamlessly with my laptop computer (there’s a Dropbox folder in Windows Explorer that I can drag and drop to), and I can automatically upload all my pictures from my phone to Dropbox.
  5. Kindle for Android:  I have a ton of ebooks; in fact, it’s how I buy commentaries anymore, unless I get a really great deal.  This lets me keep everything in one format, and I can use them across all my devices (including my iPad and my Surface).

I’m not picky about my clock widgets, or my weather apps (though I do LOVE MyRadar).  I do always install Netflix, but that’s not something I consider a must.  And of course, I’ve got a bunch of games.  But those five up there are the ones I really cannot live without.  I’m using my Kindle Fire a lot less now, in fact, partially because there is no Dropbox app in the Amazon app store anymore.

So what did I miss?  Let me know in the comments.

Book Review: Dawn’s Early Light by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

DEL coverI’ve been reading a lot lately, but nothing has grabbed my attention like Dawn’s Early Light. I’ve been looking forward to this book since it was announced a while back, and it certainly did not disappoint.

Dawn’s Early Light is the third in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series. I have reviewed the other two books on this site (Phoenix Rising was the first and The Janus Affair was the second). The books follow the adventures of field agent Eliza Braun and archivist Wellington Books as they attempt to save the world from a variety of unusual threats. Fans of well-written steampunk will thoroughly enjoy the series. If you haven’t read the first two books, though, be warned — this review will contain some spoilers. You COULD read this one without the first two, but you will be missing a LOT of backstory, so I really don’t recommend it.

Dawn’s Early Light starts off with our intrepid duo headed to North America, partially to help the American counterpart to the Ministry and partially to avoid the fallout of their last adventure (The Janus Affair). A not-so-simple airship ride later and they are in the States, meeting their American counterparts.

And they certainly are counterparts. Felicity Lovelace, librarian, and “Wild Bill” Wheatley are gender-swapped Books and Braun, which actually makes for some interesting situations later on in the book. Remembering the kiss in book 2, the reader instantly wonders what will happen to that relationship as Books and Braun spend so much time with counterparts that are so much more … compatible with themselves. The interplay between characters (especially Braun and Lovelace) is entertaining without being overbearing and adds to the plot.

Without spoiling too much of the book, you should prepare yourself for an entirely different perspective on Thomas Edison, an all-too-brief encounter with Henry Ford, and Nikola Tesla working with the Ministry. Books and Braun’s adventure sends them coast to coast, from the sands of North Carolina to the thriving town of San Francisco, with stops in Detroit and Arizona along the way. The breakneck pace of these travels will keep you up late reading “just one more page.” I had decided at the beginning that I would read one chapter per night — that didn’t last long at all, and I finished the book just a few days after I started.

From the very beginning, I have seen the influence of The Avengers in Books and Braun. Not the MArvel super hero Avengers; no Captain America or Iron Man here. No, I’m talking about the real Avengers — John Steed and Emma Peel. Books and Braun work well together, compliment each other perfectly, and help each other grow as people — everything you could ever want from a partner. The one thing I feared from the second book was what I call the Moonlighting Effect. When you have a male/female leading pair that starts off the series with some serious romantic tension, there is often a sort of disappointment when the two finally declare their love for each other. It seems like this is the reason for the introduction of the American counterparts — to test and see how serious Books and Braun are about each other and to provide some tension. I look forward to seeing how the blooming relationship between Eliza and Wellington is treated in future books.

I absolutely love subplots in fiction, especially when those subplots are carried throughout a series, in the background at first but increasingly brought to the front. There is a definite subplot in this series, a “something is rotten in the state of England” type of subplot that has been around since book 1 but that is really brought to the front in this volume. I am curious about one point in this subplot though — Dr. Sound agrees to act as though a certain individual has been killed, and not even let that person’s mother know the truth. Yet at the end of the book he tells her the truth. I’m really curious about that — I’m going to have to reread the ending to make sure I didn’t misunderstand something that I read. That point confused me a bit, but the subplot that it touches sounds fascinating, and I look forward to more.

As with the first two books, Dawn’s Early Light is highly recommended. Read the other two first, so that you get the backstory and side references that you will encounter. If you’ve never read steampunk before, this is a good introduction. The book is out on March 25, just five days from now. But why wait? Click the cover above and place your preorder. You’ll be glad you did.

OR — you can win yourself not ONLY a copy of this book, but the other two as well. That’s right — there’s a giveaway involved here, and you can win some good stuff.

PRIZE ONE
Three paperback set (signed) of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences
Signed Abney Park Poster
Signed Abney Park CD Ancient World
Signed coverflats of Phoenix Rising and the Janus Affair

PRIZE TWO
Three paperback set (signed) of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences
The Extraordinary Contraptions CD
Signed cover flat of Phoenix Rising

PRIZE THREE
Three paperback set (signed) of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences

And here’s how to enter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This post is part of the Dawn’s Early Light blog tour, which runs through the 21st. If you want more information about the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, check out the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TheMinistryOfPeculiarOccurrences.