Photo of the Day: Overcast Saigon

Anyone that’s ever visited Southeast Asia knows about the region’s frequent rainstorms. Particularly during monsoon season, the heavens often open up without warning on travelers, forcing you to run for cover to avoid getting soaked. Today’s photo, brought to us by Flickr user _jeryc garcia_, is an all-too-familiar visual reminder of these Southeast Asian monsoons. Taken in Saigon, it looks as if our photographer is taking refuge from one of these typical if unexpected showers. The dark, monochrome sky is punctuated by colorful turquoise and green buildings and a luminous sliver sun off on the horizon. The grid-like pattern of the windows lends an additional visual intrigue.

Taken any great photos during your recent travels? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of them as our Photo of the Day.

First summits of the year on Everest

The first successful summits of Mt. Everest for the 2011 spring climbing season took place yesterday, and as you might guess, they were accomplished by a group of Sherpas. The six-man team stood on the highest point on the planet after fixing the ropes to the summit, the same ropes that will now be used by the foreign climbers who will soon begin the long, challenging climb for themselves.

Each year, dozens of climber travel to Everest, the tallest mountain on the planet at 29,029-feet, in an attempt to scale that iconic peak. They spend upwards of two months, and $50,000, for the chance to stand on top of the mountain for just a few brief moments. Over the course of those two months, they climb up and down portions of the mountain several times, allowing their bodies to acclimatize to the extreme altitude, in preparation for the final push to the summit.

While those visiting climbers slowly adapt to the altitude, the indigenous Sherpas prepare the route to the top of the mountain. Using thousands of feet of rope, they put into place the lines that the climbing teams that follow will use to safely move higher on Everest. They’ll also establish a series of high altitude camps, four in all, which the mountaineers use as rest stops while acclimatizing and on their way to the top. This is difficult and draining work that only these unsung heroes of the Himalaya can complete in a safe and timely manner.

With the route to the summit now finished, the commercial climbing teams will now look for a weather window that will allow them to climb to the summit as well. Most are finishing their final acclimatization rotation over the next few days, after which they’ll return to Base Camp for a brief rest. All eyes will then be on the weather forecast, as the climbers look for an extended period of good conditions that will allow them to safely climb up the mountain. They may have to wait awhile however, as the weather on Everest this season has been unusual. Climbers report colder and windier conditions when compared to previous years, with more snow as well.

If all goes as planned however, there will be a spate of summits in about a week or so. Traditionally, most of the summits take place around the middle of May, before the seasonal monsoons set in in early June.

Review: Monsoon Multimedia Vulkano – Part 2

Back in August, we took our first look at the Monsoon Multimedia Vulkano. In that review, we promised to take a closer look at some of its other features in a later reivew. As it turned out, the Vulkano got off to a bit of a false start, because some of its more advanced features did not work as advertised.

Now, several months later, the Vulkano has received a variety of firmware and software updates, so read on to see whether it can live up to its high expectations.

But first a recap of what Vulkano does. The compact box sits at home, connected to your video source. This can be a cable box, satellite box, DVR, or anything else that delivers a component or composite video signal.

Once connected to a video source, the box is hooked up to the Internet using Wi-Fi (built in) or wired to Ethernet. The basic principle behind the box is that it can stream video anywhere in the world, to a computer or mobile device.

As we showed in our original review, this part of the Vulkano works perfectly – and the streaming video quality is outstanding.

The advanced features of the Vulkano are what set it apart. In addition to streaming video, the unit can also function as a digital video recorder and program guide. The guide can be accessed in three different ways – on your TV using the included remote, on your PC using the desktop software and on your mobile device.

The program guide, or EPG, works just like you may already be used to from your TiVo or other DVR. You can browse all your channels, pick programs you’d like to record, and schedule them. Once scheduled, the Vulkano will take care of recording from that channel – and uses its IR blaster to control your video source.

Once a program has been recorded, you can watch the recording on your TV. So far – this is all still the same as most DVR’s. Where the Vulkano gets really interesting is that you can also transfer this recording to any other Vulkano player – mobile or desktop.

In real life, this means you can be in your hotel room, tell Vulkano to record your favorite show, then in the morning, you can transfer it to your mobile device, ready to watch on your flight back home.

In reality, this is works relaitively well – albeit with a few caveats. For starters, you can not watch streaming video when the Vulkano is recording a program. You also need to be sure the unit will correctly talk to your cable box or DVR to tell it what to record. In my case, my TiVo refused to change channel (for whatever reason) and I ended up with two hours of the wrong recording. Though to be fair, this is hardly the fault of the Vulkano.

Recordings are made to an SD memory card or eSATA hard drive. The basic Vulkano version ($149.99) comes without storage, the Deluxe version comes with a 16GB memory card ($279.99) and the Deluxe Pro version is delivered with a 1TB drive, enough for 900 90 minute shows ($379.99).

On your home TV, the Vulkano also lets you watch live TV or Youtube clips, and other content sources will be added in the future.

So – does the box deliver on its promise? Absolutely. There are still minor unpolished issues, but over the past month with this current box, I have not seen any reboots or other serious issues. The lack of being able to watch streaming video while a recording is in progress is annoying, but not really a dealbreaker.

Remote video streaming quality is still excellent, and the mobile players are all free – a big difference from its main competitor where mobile players retail for $30.

I won’t pretend that the product is 100% complete – many Monsoon Multimedia products usually remain a work in progress, but the basics are all there, and they all work as they should. In other words, the product can only get better over time.

With Black Friday coming up, Monsoon is offering a $50 discount on any Vulkano product – just enter coupon code 112510 during checkout. Expires on 11/28/10.

Monsoon Multimedia Vulkano placeshifting/streamer now available

Right on target (give or take a few days), the Monsoon Multimedia Vulkano placeshifting/streaming box is available to the general public. As a quick reminder – this all-in-one box lets you remotely stream live or recorded TV anywhere in the world and even allows for downloads of recorded content to your portable computer or smartphone.

The box comes in a variety of “flavors”, with different versions offering various levels of local storage for video content. With the box, you’ll be able to travel the world, and still keep up to date with the latest in your favorite reality TV show. When you find yourself at home, you’ll be able to use the box as a DVR, media player or online video box. When traveling, you can also schedule recordings. Best of all, other than the investment in the box itself, there are no other costs involved.

We hope to have a full review of the Vulkano next week, but if you can’t wait for our opinion, head on over to the Vulkano site or where you’ll be able to place your order. Prices start at $259 for the basic 8Gb Vulkano up to $379 for the Vulkano Deluxe with a 1TB hard drive.

Vulkano by Monsoon Multimedia promises the ultimate in on-the-go TV and video

In two weeks, Monsoon Multimedia will begin shipping their Vulkano multimedia streaming device. Described as the world’s first “all in one video product”, the Vulkano will let you record live TV and watch recordings at home or anywhere in the world on your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPod or iPad, Blackberry or Android device.

Vulkano even lets you watch live TV on the go, and playback local video files off its internal storage or an external hard drive. To make a great list of specifications even better, you can also transfer recordings from the Vulkano to your device, no matter where you are. On your laptop, desktop or mobile device, you also get access to an electronic program guide, which means you can schedule TV recordings anywhere you are.

All in all, this product really does seem perfect for some entertainment on the road – it means you can arrive at the airport, and wirelessly download recordings from home to your mobile device, giving you something to watch on your flight. Once you get back home, you can use the Vulkano to watch recordings and Internet content from YouTube and other providers.

The Vulkano is available for pre-orders today, and shipments are scheduled to take place starting August 10th. The “basic” Vulkano comes with 16GB of storage, and the “professional version” comes with an external 1Tb drive. Prices start at $279.99. You can learn more about the Vulkano at its product page, where you’ll also find pre-order links.

We’ll have a full review of the Vulkano as soon as we can get our hands on one!