Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Clean power for technology, self-sufficiency for all

Okay, so, you charge and use your phone, and charge it again.  You usually pay for charging your own battery through your car or home outlet.

What about all that media you use?

As much as I criticize Apple, they've done some good to reduce their energy demands on the grid.

For Earth Day, they took a poke at someone with this advertising and also had a video about their accomplishments.

If you remember the rolling blackouts in California not so long ago, you know how bad the energy demand can be.  It got to the point where the Standby mode for electronics became a problem, and people were unplugging their electronics, and waiting for them to be powered again when they wanted to use them--like the old days.

I remember working at a hospital outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (before and) after a new shopping center with Best Buy and Barnes & Noble had opened.  It was hot and the extra drain from the shopping center and the air conditioning caused brownouts.  Since our main computer system was on a generator and a battery back up, there should have been no problem but the people who sold the system never considered a voltage regulator and when things were switched, the computer system crashed.  Hospital systems aren't supposed to crash--ever.

So, being self-sufficient is so important.  Obviously, the day is coming (slowly) that every house or apartment complex will have alternative energy sources.  Not every area is right for solar panels, or wind turbines, or hydroelectric generation.

Even when solar panels work, they're not quite efficient enough.  I've recently seen some technology to turn heat into energy, which would work in conjunction with solar panels.  I could also imagine capturing other radiation to use as energy.

If none of these techniques work, we'll have to get Gilligan (Gilligan's Island) to ride the bicycle to generate electricity.

What would happen if every company in the U.S.A. would take the cost and effort to make themselves self-sufficient in energy usage?  Would there be a glut of energy?  Could coal usage drop to minimal levels and only natural gas be used?  Could the air be less toxic?

I'm not an activist, but maybe I should be--maybe we all should be.  The more we put the planet right, the better off it will be for everyone.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

dSLR users: open up to mirror-less models

Over a year ago, I couldn't really see myself using a mirror-less camera model.  I have been good with a dSLR, and I didn't feel any need to switch.  The various new system cameras didn't offer me anything great, until the GH3.

Now, it's easy to see that the Panasonic GH3 is the size of a smaller dSLR, but with a well-proportioned body and good grip.  The designers actually thought about its being used by photographers.  Isn't that amazing?

Add to that reasonable still photography and incredible video photography at a reasonable price with weather-sealing, and you've got a recipe for taking on a hurricane.  I know--I've been out in hurricanes, photographing them with the Olympus E-1.

I was stubborn that an electronic viewfinder could not work for me and I wasn't going to use the rear display because of the trouble using it in bright sunlight.  I was half right.

Using a rear display doesn't work well in bright sunlight, but the smaller EVF can, especially those of the Olympus E-M1 and FujiFilm X-T1.  I haven't seen the Panasonic GH4's improved EVF but I expect it to be good, not great.  I have various issues when using the GH3 viewfinder, mainly with sunglasses, but it is relatively good.  I've used the Olympus E-M1 extensively and found that it doesn't seem to have the GH3's problems, and since many people have commented that the FujiFilm X-T1's viewfinder is even better than that of the E-M1, I would say that my short experience with the X-T1 would be very positive and typical also.

Where the EVF shines on the GH3 is at night.  I can see to frame and focus in ways that an optical viewfinder does not work well.  I had great respect for the Olympus OM-1N viewfinder--the brightest in the business at the time, but the GH3 does miracles for night work, and I'm guessing that any EVF can work similarly well.

Along with that, the GH3's auto focus works to EV -4.  That's equivalent to starlight.  I took some quick photos after the firmware update, just to see, and it worked incredibly well.  I hated the image quality, as I wasn't really trying to do anything important and didn't plan, but it worked.

The one thing I dislike with the Olympus E-5 and Nikon D7100 and Canon 70D users will understand: switching to Live View takes a fast camera body and makes it seem horribly slow.  There were occasions when I flipped out the display (don't try that with the D7100 or 70D!) and enabled Live View and it felt as though time stopped.  I got the photos I wanted, and it's so nice to be able to point the lens upward, while looking at a comfortable angle, but you have to be a bit patient.

The GH3 allows me to switch back and forth quickly because the same feed and the same auto focus is working.  Since there is no optical viewfinder, the imaging sensor is working in Live View mode all the time, and it's made to handle the thermal stresses, as well.  Need to hand-hold a Live View shot at a steep angle in portrait orientation?  The GH3's rear display can do that for you, and you will still be comfortable.

There was a time when I would be flat on my back, looking up at a building, working to get a certain vertical shot.  I no longer have to do that.

I was taking some photos last Saturday at an arboretum and park and it was simple to get each shot.  I thought that the rear display would be unusable, but I could actually see it fairly well.  Someone asked me to take a photo or two with their smart phone, and I was surprised at how poor the Samsung Galaxy S4 display did in bright light.  I could barely see where the shutter release button was.  Considering that Samsung uses their phones to showcase their displays, it was disappointing.  I had new respect for Panasonic.

I know, better than most, what speed means.  After all, I photograph a lot of sports.  I can understand why photographers have switched to video for cross country and track events but I have not.  I'm still sorting things to use the GH3 in such sports, although replacing it with the GH4 will likely help, and that's on the list.  I don't do a lot of burst mode shooting, but 12 frames per second sounds better than 6 frames per second when it comes to crunch time, don't you think?  Of course, auto focus had better work well also, or you'd better be able to manually focus the lens quickly.  (I'm good with manual focus on dSLR lenses because they're big enough for that to happen.  micro Four-Thirds lenses are tiny, in comparison, so I require auto focus to work well.)

The only thing you can't fix with mirror-less equipment is the price.  I pick and choose but on the whole, everything that will get you high image quality is really expensive.  Mind you, it's often cheaper than equivalent dSLR equipment, especially weather-sealed equipment, but most people don't see that.  Once again, photographing hurricanes, the weather-sealed equipment worked beautifully, and every time I shoot cross country in the rain, I giggle at the people trying to hide their equipment from the downpour.

I know that dSLRs will go away eventually.  I'm sure everyone realizes that.  I was stubborn and didn't want to let go but suddenly, with the right lens, I'm realizing the benefits of mirror-less technology.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Will iPhone size balloon to hold a 5.5 or 5.7 inch diagonal display?

When I switched from the iPhone 4s to the iPhone 5c, the display size was somewhat altered with the 3.5 to 4.0 inch display change.  It's not as comfortable as I would hope.  I was reasonably happy with the smaller display.  Putting another row of icons on the display wasn't my priority.

We're expected to believe that the iPhone 6 will have two sizes, such as 4.7 inch for a typical model, and a 5.5 or 5.7 inch phablet-sized model.

I know that some people have larger hands and yes, typing with thumbs can be a problem.  It's especially a problem with Android-based devices, as I've found with the LG Optimus S, 2012 Google Nexus 7, and 2013 Nexus 7.  You'd think on a high resolution, larger-display device that the keyboard would be spacious, but it is still a bit cramped, though better with 4.4.x than with 4.1.x.

Apparently, displays are becoming less expensive somehow, as we reach for intense densities.  Otherwise, how can they afford to put such displays in smaller hand-held devices such as phones?  Phone carriers aren't going to accept more subsidies/discounts degrading their profits.  Besides, in some parts of the world, people have no subsidies at all.  Often, their contract (or lack-of-contract) deals are better than those in the U.S.A. or Canada.

Of course, with a larger display, efficient or otherwise, more battery power will be required.  Since the case is bigger to hold the display, that automatically provides some thin real estate in which to add batteries.

If the display requires more power than the current displays, of course, it will need more battery capacity just to stay even with the current phones.  Hopefully, they've found some magic beans, errr, magic screens.

My first color display-using phone required too much recharging.  So did my first 3G phone, and thankfully, the iPhone 5c chipset for LTE seems a bit more thrifty than the previous chipset in the iPhone 4s, although in 3G mode, it seems to quickly drain because of poor connectivity, tower or phone-related.

When I see reviews about an airport, they often mention electrical outlets.  Isn't it sad that we're so tied to hand-held devices that we need to find outlets?

I'm not sure of the actual sizes, but it seems obvious that Apple will put together some bigger devices, perhaps, as they did with the MacBook Pro--three sizes, to compete with the larger Android-based devices.  I'm just not sure I'll be ready for them.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Buying a tripod: Manfrotto 190XPROL, 804RC2

In 30+ years of photography, I never bought or even used a tripod or monopod.  I know that there are uses for them, but I photograph sports hand-held only.  I'm good at it, except when I have the challenges of low light, and image quality fades, as well as my ability to focus manually.  Thankfully, most cameras have trouble focusing manually in low light, so I don't feel so old or feeble.  :-D

Toward the end of summer 2013, I went to the camera store to participate in Olympus' social gathering for the presentation and group use of the soon-to-be-released E-M1 and 12-40mm f/2.8 lens.  While I was there, I bought a tripod.  The salesperson asked what I wanted to spend and my upper limit of US$300 was brought down to about $200 with the Manfrotto 190XPROL, 804RC2 combination.  I felt satisfied that I'd got a good combination.  The center post could be used horizontally, which meant that food photography was very easy and stable.  I would normally hand hold the equipment and re-position myself a few times to get what I wanted.  I never did the top-down shots because they would not be even.  (I also don't really care for top-down shots because they don't prompt much desire for the food the way my head-on shots seem to work.)

That was Thursday, I believe.  Monday, I was tweeting with the store about the new 190 series.  They were not informed yet.  A few tweets and one phone call later, I learned that the new series equivalent was US$150 more.  Holy shhhhhhh!!!!

Being that I've used the tripod a totally of 30 shots, I think the cheaper but fantastic combination was the better choice for me.  I could have bought fancier equipment and if I was a landscape photographer or doing video on a tripod, I probably could use better equipment, and pay for the extra cost quickly.

I was shocked, though, that the initial combination was only about US$200 for Manfrotto.  That's not much more than you pay for the cheap brands.  The 3-way head is very, very adjustable, and the legs have a lot of height and at the same time, great stability.  The ability to use the center column in horizontal and vertical orientations seems incredible at the price.

Except for using the tripod to show off some lenses, I've only used it outdoors in the complete darkness to photograph a star, since most of the time I've had it, it has been chilly.  My Panasonic GH3 will auto focus in that amount of light, but instead I used the Olympus E-5 and 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 since it had further reach.  I thought back to using the Bulb setting, when there was actually a flash bulb, and held the shutter release and counted.  It worked out well enough and it was chilly enough that I didn't want to be outside long anyway.  Now that spring has sprung, the nights will be warmer--and I'm moving to a warmer climate than here.

I could have bought a Pro-Optic or whatever brand, but how much is my equipment worth?  As with my Crumpler bags, I don't want to damage my equipment by something that can't handle the load.  Imagine a US$2500 lens falling to the ground and being destroyed.  Mine fell from about 12 inches and was fine, and so was the attached camera body.  Four times that height would likely be too much.

I'm pleased to say that I have a good brand, and even more than that, a good tripod combination.  Now, if I will always remember to turn off the image stabilization while using it, I'll be set.

Here is a review of the new 190 series: http://www.dpreview.com/articles/4361312796/manfrotto-190-series-carbon-fiber-tripod-review

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Verizon, don't !@#$ with me, okay?

It's been a month.  I'm in for the long haul with a company I barely trust.  The positive about it is that they're not as bad as the new AT&T/SBC.  Almost two years ago when I got a refurbished mobile hotspot shipping from AT&T in Texas, I was charged for the three days it was in the mail.  Verizon isn't that bad.

Now, here is a huge tip.  If you change your plan because you want to not exceed the data allotment, make the change retroactive to the beginning of the current billing cycle so that it claims the whole amount for the whole month.  Do not let the change be immediate.

Why?  I got overages, even though I changed from 5 GB to 10 GB and only had 9 GB used.

When I made the change on the web site, instead of seeing 10 GB as the limit, they gave me 3.871 GB, even though I hadn't yet crossed 5 GB.  They divide the number of remaining days to calculate how much data you should receive, rather than just dumping the full amount into it and they use pro rata calculations for the price to you equally.

Therefore, at the point where I crossed the 4.86 or whatever + 3.871 GB, I was in overage land.

I'm still not sure what I'll be charged but I certainly have a headache about it now.  Then, there is part 2.

Sunday, after the overage message, I called customer service.  Someone friendly answered my question and explained how I was over.  She told me that I should switch to the 12 GB plan instead of the 10 GB plan and that would eliminate the overage.  Besides, it was only $70 instead of $80, so I would be saving money and getting a bigger allotment.

I had seen the "Share" plans and they all had a $20 fee for the line.  I asked precisely "are there any other charges, other than for the government?"  She said that there were no other charges and that an extra 2 GB of data would be $10 instead of the 1 GB per $10 with the current 10 GB plan.  I agreed.

Part 3 came today in an e-mail about the changes.  $70 + $20 = $90.  What?  That's not cheaper than $80.

I called customer service and tried to calmly explain the situation.  I'm back on the $80 plan with no $20 fee for the line.  It may be older but I don't have another Verizon device and it seems rather expensive if you have more than one.

I'm wondering now if the person got a commission for the switch to a new plan that would "help" me.  I had a similar experience with a cable company (Time-Warmer or BrightHouse Networks, which took over the area), and I called back and told them that they could rip out the changes or rip out their cable lines to my house because I wasn't paying extra.  Oops.  They liked to play games, though.

I can' imagine how this is going to look when I get the bill, but whatever.  It's difficult any time you start with a new contract.  It's just too bad I couldn't have bought the device outright and gone contract-less.

Besides all that, I sent the rebate form without the labels from the box.  Damn.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Panasonic/Leica 15mm f/1.7

Since Panasonic has announced the availability of this lens on Monday, the silly comments have started.  (It's due in early June by itself, or in late June with the black-bodied GM1.)

We have the ever-present "f/3.4" comment from the people who probably don't have 135 Format (commonly, mistakenly known as 35mm) equipment, but can't really find another way to bash micro Four-Thirds.  My thought is always that they've never worked with Medium Format, either, and getting enough depth of field is a wonderful thing.  I've always had to work at getting enough DoF with Four-Thirds and micro Four-Thirds, though I'm almost always working wide open.

Then, there is the US$599.99 is too much for such a tiny lens for a tiny sensor.  I wonder how those who are Nikon users resolve the conflict with the Nikon 1 system--that they probably have in their bag, along with their APS-C-sized dSLR.  There are lenses in that system for around US$900.

I saw one complaining that Leica just sold the name to put on it.  However, they have to approve the design before allowing their name.  It makes me wonder how the 45mm f/2.8 macro and 25mm f/1.4 micro Four-Thirds lenses were allowed, if Leica approved them, which I'm sure they did.  The filter size of the Four-Thirds version of the Leica-branded 25mm f/1.4 is 62mm and the micro Four-Thirds version is 46mm.  That's a huge difference, even when the barrel size of an equivalent micro Four-Thirds lens will be smaller than its Four-Thirds relative.  It's interesting that the 15mm f/1.7 has a filter size of 46mm, also.

Is there a way to build tiny lenses and not compromise?  I'm sure there is, as long as the barrel geometry is not that of a pancake-style lens.  Panasonic's 20mm f/1.7 does a good job, but the compromises are many and software helps quite a lot to fix things, except the focusing speed, of course.  Too bad they didn't create a bigger 20mm lens with a more powerful focusing motor, but then, many people wouldn't love that compromise.

Does the aperture ring lock in Auto?

I expect that the 15mm f/1.7 will be sharp and quick to focus and it will make the Panasonic GM1 a good alternative to the FujiFilm X100s, with some extra flexibility allowed by the ability to use many lenses.  I still want to see the GM1 mounted to my Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0, on the tripod, of course, with the 35-100mm f/2.0 using the tripod collar.  I think I'd take it out with me just to get people's reactions.

I'm guessing that the GM1 will sell better now that there is a second lens made specifically for it, especially if the black body is available in the U.S.A. for "professional" use.  :-D  I just had a thought about the black-anodized bodies from the 1970s and 1980s where the black would rub off after so much use.  US$999.99 seems expensive for the combination but is the FujiFilm X100s at US$1299.99 expensive?  It's all about perspective, right?

I'd love a pocket-able pocket camera with high quality images.  (I've used an iPhone for various wide photography since it's always with me.)  I believe the GM1 with the 15mm f/1.7 will deliver.  Even the 12-32mm kit lens is quite good.

Update 2014.03.27: Please don't expect that Olympus will support the aperture ring.  They've had about 9 or 10 years to support aperture rings from Leica/Panasonic lenses made for Four-Thirds at the time of the Leica Digilux 3, Panasonic DMC-L1, and Olympus E-330 and they still haven't done anything about them.  It's not likely that it's even a thought in their minds.  If everything back then had them, and they didn't support them, it isn't likely now when very few have them.

Update 2014.04.10: It seems odd that the front element of the lens is so small.  I could imagine a smaller barrel, if they were willing to compromise/eliminate physical controls.   Would it have hurt to make it an f/1.4 lens and use more of that space?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Public transportation works--we need more

The continental U.S.A. is roughly 3000 miles wide.  It took me three 15 hour days to drive from Orlando, Florida to Los Angeles, California and an equal amount of time to return home.  Many of the states are the size of a country elsewhere.  There is a lot of what seems to be empty land.  Mobile phone service is generally available but not available everywhere.  Many people use satellite-based TV because cable companies aren't there, and antenna-based TV only works at short distances--shorter since digital TV arrived.

I've used public transportation on both coasts and in Japan.  In Japan, you can set your watch by it.  I did.  In the U.S.A., you might as well throw out your watch.  When the train or bus arrives, it's there, and that's all that matters.

In the midwest, where I went to school, my mum and I took the bus once.  It wasn't really good or bad, but we didn't have to walk.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I used trains and buses regularly (I likely still have my route pamphlets), and went one summer without a car.  It was demanding because I worked outside the city and after dark, services are less available.  What was a walk in the morning, and about 40 minutes on trains and buses, at night, took four hours on two buses, including a trip into the city and back out to the edge.

Transportation around New York City is no better, no worse.  Getting around Manhattan is easy--uptown, downtown.  Getting into town, you end up at Penn Station or Grand Central Station.  If you're going to Long Island, you board the Long Island Railroad at Penn Station, and wait and wait and wait and fall asleep and miss your stop.  I didn't fall asleep but I swear that it was the slowest train ride I had since being in rural Japan, taking a local train.

In San Jose, I used (Santa Clara) Valley Transportation Authority light rail.  It was smooth and fast enough.  Planners were thoughtful enough to put a connection to San Francisco through Caltrain.  At this same San Jose Diridon station, you can also use the Altamont Corridor Express to Stockton, as well as points along the way.   Caltrain was reasonably good, although I've seen plenty of mistakes since I used it.  I'm just happy I wasn't on a train with a problem, and that the temperature was moderate.

One thing I really liked about Caltrain is that they had dedicated storage for bikes.  I didn't pay too much attention to how you could lock your bike but they mounted the bike with the front wheel up.  I don't know that I would use it, but it was an effective way to keep the use of cars down.  Since then, they have introduced some bike-rental-sharing scheme.

When I was in the Bay Area, I didn't use my car that much but when I did, I was rarely stuck in traffic.  I did not drive into San Francisco, though.  On the other hand, I've driven through Manhattan, Queensborough, and Brooklyn and don't want to do that again, and that's with major public transportation.  I swear I used almost every bridge and tunnel in the NYC metro area, except for the George Washington Bridge and Verazzano Straits Bridge, all in one day.

Having lived in the Orlando, Florida area for 11 years after Philadelphia, I wanted to use public transportation.  There was a bus stop in front of my first apartment complex.  The bus that stops there went to a mall.  I did some research and the mile between my apartment and my work had zero Lynx buses, for some reason, even though there were buses on either side of the stretch.  The lack of sidewalks and the high humidity made walking an unlikely adventure, as I would need to clean up after walking to work.  In all those years of living there, I never found a situation where I could ride a bus.  The Orlando Sentinel used the headline "FloriDUH!" after the 2000 elections and I've used the nickname ever since.  What the planning people are thinking is beyond me.  They're working on implementing light rail now.  It looked great, but whether Lynx buses will match up with it or not is anyone's guess.  They're now trying to implement SunRail, their soon-to-be light rail solution from Volusia to Osceola counties.  I could only hope that they've planned to connect bus routes to the light rail stations.

While public transportation doesn't make sense in many farming communities, it makes sense for small towns and medium-sized cities.  I might use public transportation now, except that I'd have to walk two miles to Main Street or the shopping centers to get a bus that probably doesn't go where I want.  If they had not paved over all the trolley tracks, I wonder if the town would be very different now.

Maybe obviously, taking a mature city and implementing train or trolley service requires a lot of construction, especially with subways.  The other day I saw something about BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) finally after 30, 40 years making its way to San Jose from San Francisco, along East Bay.  The comments about it were rude, ranging from drugs making their way to San Jose to the horror of detours for construction.  I can't imagine that people would choose to be in a car waiting in traffic, rather than sitting in a train, for the same amount of time.  It is overdue, but at least, it's on the way to a finish, even though Caltrain already handles the western side of things.

I don't want to pay extra for parking or find my car damaged when I return, even in a company-owned lot.  I avoided that in Philadelphia, at least, paying for parking, by taking SEPTA trains into work.  At that time, $56 per month got me unlimited access to the city via trains, trolleys, and buses.  $64 got me a parking space.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, a $6 VTA day pass got me unlimited trips around Santa Clara county on VTA buses and light rail, and the $18 day pass got me unlimited Caltrain use between San Jose and San Francisco.  Besides, you don't have to remember where you parked your train.

I know that public transportation wherever it is, is no complete fix.  It is usually a huge burden on the taxpayers, even with great ridership.  It costs money to power it, and unions are often disagreeable.  I'm not just talking about the U.S.A.  It wasn't that long ago that the German rail workers union went on strike, and they probably had a fairly good deal already.  When I was riding a SEPTA bus, the drivers would often tell of how the union was going to strike many months ahead of contract negotiations--regardless of contract negotiations.

If the world has all these great minds that think about economies all the time, why is it that they can't find a good, balanced solution for transportation?  If power was free (solar, wind, etc.), would public transportation be affordable?  (I just remembered one serial dream I had.  I was explaining to the rest of my class my idea of self-propagating electromagnetic propulsion for trains, but unfortunately, I can't remember any serious details.)

Update 2014.04.11: I'm looking to move somewhere between San Jose and Stockton, California, so that I can use the ACE trains and live cheaply, until such time as I have money for a house, should I ever choose that again.  I'm not 100% sure of job prospects, but if I end up with a local retail job, I can always take the train to San Jose to visit museums and other attractions.  I think I'll have to drive the car to Palo Alto to IKEA, unless I'm also going all the way to San Fran on Caltrain.  Public transportation takes more research and preparation, which reminds me how I forgot to learn about San Francisco's MUNI ahead of time and ended up hurting my feet the several hours I was there walking.

Update 2014.04.20: Apparently, living out by California state road 99 and I-5, you have some options to get to the San Fran Bay Area.   The ACE train is one and there is a bus from Modesto (MAX) to the BART station at Dublin/Pleasanton.  Everything seems to result in a 4 hour trip, if you're going all the way to San Francisco.  The Caltrain trip from San Jose to San Francisco was somewhere between 1.5 hours and 2.0 hours, depending on taking express or local trains.  Obviously, the bus will take longer because it has to sit in traffic with all of the commuters who moved to the Central Valley to save money.

I also took a moment to look at getting to Los Angeles.  It seems that Amtrak goes from San Fran to Stockton by bus.  You leave Stockton on the train but just to Bakersfield, and then, you're on another bus to Los Angeles.  I'm confused.  Is the ground so unstable that they don't have passenger trains running the length of the state?

In Los Angeles, I know that they have some trains.  I've seen the station at the far end, at Angels Stadium in Orange County.  I wonder if they're used much, other than for the baseball traffic.  There didn't seem to be any dedicated parking, other than that of the stadium.  Perhaps, when there are no games, people use it for Park-and-Ride?