Saturday, July 27, 2019

7artisans 55mm f/1.4 Is Here

After my interesting time with the Zhong Yi Mitakon 25mm f/0.95 for micro Four-Thirds, I didn't think that I would ever pick another Chinese lens.  It seemed that they were more worried about the case than they were the lens.

Flare was a weird problem, and the lens didn't really do better at f/0.95 because, as expected, it was quite weird there.  It worked, and for situations where no other aperture would do, it was capable.

That lens was US$349.00.  Quality control should have been better.  I could not, as others might tell you, focus to Infinity.

So, now I've ordered this 55mm f/1.4 for US$119.99.  I don't expect a Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 for that price, but I hope that the mechanism works better than the Zhong Yi lens did.  I'd only heard of 7artisans a few months ago when I was reading about alternatives to Fujifilm lenses.

It has arrived.

Maybe obviously, the lens isn't very big at all, even for an aperture of f/1.4.  The filter size is 49mm, which seems about right for the 1970s, when most lenses didn't have auto focus or auto exposure or anything more than very, very basic electronics, if any.  This one seems a nice, third-party lens from the 1970s with modern lens coatings.

It feels about the same weight as the Panasonic GM5--the micro micro Four-Thirds body but it's probably heavier.  At least, the weight feels proportional to the size.  The Mitakon 25mm f/0.95 seemed overly heavy, and yes, I know that the optics play a great role, but it was ever so tiny and rather heavy.

This 55mm f/1.4 lens seems geared toward portraiture.  The focus ring moves very little between 5 meters and infinity, making focusing on distant subjects a bit problematic.  Practice will help.  The Panasonic GM5 doesn't have the best of image processors, due to the size, so hopefully, the GH4 will be more helpful.

 Photographing at sunset is a bit difficult and my eyes aren't as good as they might be, especially in the last two weeks, due to heart problems.  Practically everything was registering ISO 2000-ISO 3200.  That doesn't help.

In the afternoon, given that it's about 100 degrees F right now, things are a bit better.  The detent-less aperture ring tends to make things more interesting than they might be but as with everything else about this lens (and most new lenses), it takes time to learn.

I'm mostly pleased with the performance, but focusing to infinity seems to not work correctly.  I pointed at a tree and focus peaking told me that the tree was in focus at the infinity setting, despite it only being about 50 meters away.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Google Home Mini is a Useful Device

Back in October, Best Buy was having a huge sale on their Insignia speakers with Google Assistant.  I bought one for each of the two people who live in this apartment where I rent a room.

Sometime in December, he opened the package and got the speaker out.  She still has yet to open the box.

Thanksgiving Day, Target, where I work, had Google Home Mini speakers for half price--$24.99--as doorbusters for Black Thursday.  I ordered one and it was waiting for me when I clocked out.

It took a bit of configuring and unfortunately, there is no user-accessible battery unlike the Best Buy Insignia speakers, so if it comes unplugged, it doesn't work.  Thankfully, it retains settings and re-connects to the WiFi connection on its own.

From the beginning, I didn't have much luck with Siri in English (Japanese was better), but Google's speech recognition worked for me.  Google Assistant is fairly useful, but often tells me how it doesn't know how to do something.  What was disturbing is when I asked "Where is my package from Amazon?" and it told me.  When did I connect it to that information?  Who asked me?  How did this happen?  Thankfully, it can't go into my wishlist, but I should investigate all of the connections to the e-mail account.

It is especially interesting considering the effort to get Pandora and Spotify to work.  I haven't done a lot of talking to the speaker, except to start and end the music.  Occasionally, I request a certain playlist that I already added to my account.  Music playback is good, considering $24.99 and the compactness of the device.  In some ways, it reminds me of a Bose Wave Radio in that it can fill the room with music.  Vocals are good enough.  Bass is implied, not implemented.

One thing that would really help would be a connection to iHeartRadio, since I miss various radio stations across the country, especially WDAS 105.3 from Philly.  iHeartRadio is having financial troubles, so I'm not sure how they would make a deal.  (Yes, it can be used as a Bluetooth speaker, but it was a pain when I did that and I don't want to try again.)

I'm not sure that I would ever pay more than $24.99 for a speaker with an assistant.  Obviously, Apple's HomePod is too expensive at $350.00--you might as well just pay for the computer.

Friday, February 15, 2019

1TB M.2 drive, 32GB RAM installation complete

Getting a laptop computer that is working well for me has been a struggle.

For years, people have told me how much cheaper it is to buy a Windows machine than it is to buy a Mac.  For years, I told them to find one with the screen resolution and graphics hardware and it would be practically the same price.  It had been for the longest time.  Displays for laptop computers are not inexpensive but high quality displays are really expensive.

I got this 2017 Omen by HP laptop at about 25% discount.  It has an Intel i7 7700HQ quad core processor, Nvidia 1050 GPU with 2 GB of RAM, and the system came with a 1TB hard drive and 8GB of RAM.  It seemed to crawl most days.  The mid-2012 MacBook Pro had 16GB of RAM and a 480GB SSD with an Nvidia 650M GPU.

I found G.Skill RAM that I trusted that wasn't too expensive at the time and bought 32GB in two sticks.  I also found an HP m.2 SSD that seemed a good fit--an EX920.  Given that I've been working in retail and Thanksgiving Day to New Year's Day has been so brutal, I had few chances to get anything installed.  (I actually thought that, having a decent background with computer hardware installation since around 1981, I might be able to do the work myself but was proven wrong rather quickly.  It was much easier to modify each of my Apple Macintosh machines.)

I went to a phone repair store that was close, where I had some work done in the past, and the technician I knew was gone.  The person who might be able to do the work wasn't there that day, and since time wasn't convenient, I didn't return.  I went to a "computer services" shop (that looked like a pawn shop) and that shop's computer person wasn't there, either.

Last week, I decided to check another phone repair shop and found that they did computer work.  I called and was told that it would be US$30 to install the RAM and m.2 drive.  That was much lower than the $130-$250 I expected.

Wednesday, I went to the store and dropped off the computer.  They didn't give me a receipt--scary--but they sent my phone text messages to inform me on their progress.  US$30 to install the hardware and US$35 to clone the drive was given to me as the quote.  Thanks very reasonable.

Today, Friday, I went to see about the computer.  Things happened in the store and the progress was a bit delayed when "things happened", which was expected.  Thankfully, it wasn't some catastrophe where the hard drive didn't work at all.  He was "optimizing" it, so he told me that it would probably be three more hours.

I ate so-so VietNamese food at a new restaurant for way too much money, walked to a store to shop a bit, and got the text message that my machine had been finished.  I returned as quickly as I could walk.

I paid and I started the machine.  We looked and there was an update that required a restart.  I checked to see if the RAM and drive had actually been installed.  I wasn't accusing.  I just worry a lot.  If you can imagine something going wrong almost every time I do something, you'd be cautious, also.

Having the machine at home now, I'm pleased to say that my usual 51-66% RAM usage is around 19-22% now.  I'll be able to get started on my skate park videos finally.  I still need to select from thousands of clips.  I won't have to worry about my software being unhappy with the environment on which it's running, though.  Hopefully, Magix Movie Edit Pro Plus will be good.

As I've played a few games, the response is generally good but there are still delays.  I wonder if the operating system needs to mold itself to the new drive.  This machine is still labeled by HP as a casual gaming machine, which is all I needed anyway.  It still seems strange that UT2004 was smoother on a 2012 MacBook Pro than it is on a 2017 Windows machine purposed for gaming.

Update 2019.02.16: Windows 10 seems much better, although it does seem to be off in Never-Never land far too often still.  Who knows what it's doing?  As soon as I launch Task Manager, whatever was happening stops.  Defragmentation tends to continue, so I'm sure it's not that.  Feedback Hub is running, but why?  Microsoft does not want to know what I think of their collection of patches that they consider an operating system.  Back when a machine was limited to 64KB (or even 4MB) of RAM, it seemed that everything had to be tight.  Sloppy writers didn't make it.  Atari's implementation of GEM and DR-DOS weren't great but they were quick and efficient.

Firefox and Chrome both seem to handle scrolling more smoothly.

Games still seem just a bit better, which doesn't seem enough for the difference of having 4 times the RAM and a much, much faster drive.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Sprint has improved dramatically

Every year around Christmas here, I complain that the shopping area has horrible service with Sprint.  As of the Christmas season 2018, I can complain about it no longer.  We didn't get 100 Mbps service but the service was never unusable as it had been in the past few years since I arrived in 2014.

Further, I had jury duty in Stockton, which has generally had the worst of everything and I had a solid 4 bars downtown, especially on the 7th and 12th floors of the court house, but even on the ground it was exemplary.

I haven't had a lot of praise for Sprint, except for EVDO/3G in 2005 when the others were far behind them, and several years later when WiMAX was delivering data well before LTE was available in even a few places.

I'm pleased to say that the company has done better lately and I'm not sure why but I hope they continue to improve.  I'm almost okay with the T-Mobile merger, as long as we don't end up on GSM.  I hate having a voice conversation with anyone on T-Mobile because of the way it distorts and echoes.

VoLTE (Voice over LTE) should have been implemented already, so that we could rid ourselves of GSM and CDMA.  I expected it would be in place in 2015, even if it wasn't widespread, but it doesn't seem to have gone very far at all.

Update 2019.02.24: Sprint is now advertising that LTE Advanced is in use.  They also have "Calling Plus" for Android-based phones, which appears to be VoLTE, as they mention that you can use the internet while on a call, etc.

Apparently, 5G service will be launched in a few cities in May.  It seems that they've not bothered with Philadelphia or Miami, which is a big change from earlier times.

Don't you love how AT&T/SBC is finally going to LTE Advanced and is calling it 5Ge, as if it's something better than everyone else.  It's similar to when they enhanced their 3G service and called it 4G, even though it wasn't much different from T-Mobile.   By the original definition LTE Advanced is 4G, and we're not quite there yet, as far as a nationwide implementation goes.  I still see 1xRTT on occasion.

Monday, January 14, 2019

FujiFilm's Mirrorless models Are Finally Great

Ever since the FujiFilm introduced the X-Mount and the X-Trans color filter array, I've waited to see what would happen.

I tried the X-T1 in a camera shop and decided that it was too slow and sloppy for my needs.  In fact, it seemed a very casual camera body, much like the Sony mirrorless models.  When a body has loads of enhancements but requires complete manual control to keep up with action, what does it really offer?

Having used various SLRs in the 1970s, manual control wasn't a big deal.  Keeping up with the action could be.  Back then, I appreciated the shutter speed ring around the OM-1N lens mount that kept my focus on the action, rather than having to reach across with my left hand to futz with the dial on the top panel.

In 2012. that didn't make sense to me.  In 2018, it makes even less sense.  However, the newest image processor in the X-T3 is quite capable and various parts have been modified to make the X-T3 the envy of most APS-C and micro Four-Thirds users--if they could just admit it.

At this point, I wouldn't recommend any APS-C Nikon, Canon, Sony, or Pentax models, although Pentax' weather-sealed bodies are quite good and offer plenty on a budget.  Tight budgets notwithstanding, the X-T3 is the best compromise, even without In-Body Image Stabilization.  (I'm still of the opinion that the Panasonic G85/G80 with Dual I.S. is a better option for great video and good lenses on a budget, plus it's part of a very compact system.)

People starting today, should seriously consider what FujiFilm are offering.  They have two good systems now and will continue to improve, especially as they gain more, impassioned users.

It's somewhat amusing that the X-T100 pulls at me the same way the Fujica ST-605 did.  Reviews mention shortcomings, but those shortcomings, such as slower than anticipated auto focus, aren't that different from the first two generations of the X-series camera bodies.  The X-T1, for me, seemed quite unusable but plenty of people have done well with it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Playing Games on the Cheap

I balked at every new game console where the games were US$59.99.  I'm not the kind of person to enjoy that, even though I spent a small fortune with the Atari Jaguar, and had hundreds of games for the 8-bit Atari computers.

Having a Macintosh from 1993 to 2017 kept me focused, especially when I stopped buying desktop machines.  Steam arrived when I had my intel-based polycarbonate MacBook G3 and I took advantage of Portal and Half-Life 2 for free.  I bought very few games because few developers invested in Mac OS X.  I bought Unreal, Unreal Tournament, UT 2003 (a mistake), UT 2004, and missed out on UT3 when some company wouldn't license their technology for Mac or Linux.

Having had the "casual gamer" Omen by HP laptop computer since April, I started off with Steam--sort of reviving my purchases.  Of course, I didn't use cloud saves since my connection was poor, so I had to start fresh.

At this moment, Steam shows 47 games, which includes some VR variant, which I cannot play.  I don't believe I exceeded US$19.99 for any of the games, including The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition.

As I like to release frustration with arena shooting games, Toxikk has become my new favorite for starting a quick game.  The full game was a little over US$5.00 and it has a lot of what made Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament 2004 fun.  If you want something with a plot, this isn't it.

That game would be Life is Strange 2.  It's so serious at times, I had tears in my eyes at one point.  I've seen the underbelly of the west coast since moving back in 2014, and this game seems too familiar.  It's so well made that has a feeling of reality, although the voice acting might not be what it should be.  (The Galaxy on Fire series of mobile games have the worst English voice acting ever.)

Metro 2033 Redux and Metro: Last Light Redux are similarly serious but seem more of the fantasy shooter variety.  It's good to see some video games that are based on books.

I've spent a lot of time with UT2004 and UT3 lately, but continue to go to Toxikk for quick matches.

Life is Strange 2 is taking a lot of time.  I've tried to go back to Half-Life 2 and the rest of the Valve Software games but my heart just isn't in it since my progress is gone and I have to fight through each area again.  I'd rather spend the energy on something else.

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is somewhat appealing, especially since the Spyro games aren't going to be available to me any time soon.

I've given up on Gone Home and A Story About My Uncle far too quickly.   I will likely be bored and try them again.

I tried the free version of Counter Strike: Global Offensive but I'm just not sure I care.

Picked up the Freemium Asphalt 9: Legends and it's not bad with the controller and it's so small, since it's a mobile game that almost anyone could fit it on their machine.  It could use some powerful CPU/GPU combination, though.  I should be thankful for Windows Phone, even though it isn't really available any longer.  The Asphalt series is good fun and I now have three of them.

Update 2018.12.06: I saw an article saying that Epic Games was starting a store, so I downloaded the application and found that the newer, trial of Unreal Tournament was available.  I tried it for one day and the next day they announced that they are canceling it but that they are going to make the earlier games available through the store.  Since I bought them through Steam, I'm not sure what good that will do for many.  At least, Toxikk is available.

Update 2019.01.11: I've picked up two new games for free from the Epic Games store: Subnautica and What Remains of Edith Finch.  They both seem good.  It's interesting that they're going to offer a different game for free every two weeks.

On the other hand, I picked up Star Trek Timelines for Windows/Steam and it is pretty difficult to play with the mouse, as it hasn't really been converted from the touch screen game that it is on iOS and on Android.  It would probably be okay in tablet mode on the Lenovo Flex 3 that I once had, since it had a touch screen, but it's frustrating with the mouse.  What once fit on 480x320 is now on 1920x1080 and nothing has changed in the screen usage.  As well, the battery usage would be horrible as it keeps the GPU and the audio busy, even when I'm not playing it, mostly as it does on mobile devices.

Update 2019.02.02: It's time for Chinese/Lunar New Year and Ubisoft has a sale, including a very free Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China.  I also ended up with Watch_Dogs Complete (or was it Gold?) Edition and Watch_Dogs 2 for decent prices, although I exceeded US$20 for Watch_Dogs 2.

With the UPlay application, I am now acquainted with three different stores/launchers, plus the EA Origin launcher I used for a brief time on Mac OS X.  Sadly, Steam does something to make it difficult to use controllers--even their own controller, which is a magnificent hodpodge of mouse and controller and keyboard in one.

Update 2019.02.17: Just added GoG store and launcher.  They seem to be more for independent gamers and especially, those who are growing to hate Steam.  I'm finding way too many interesting games, and not enough time to play them. By the way, GoG is from Warsaw, Poland and therefore, you will probably incur extra charges for currency exchange.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Buying enough RAM to make the i7 7700HQ happy

Okay, I've had this 2017 Omen (by HP) 15t for around six months.  It's decent at most everything, making it a good successor to the mid-2012 MacBook Pro quad core i7 with 16 GB of RAM and 480 GB SSD.

When things get tough, it shows how slow it is.  The 8 GB of RAM shows up as about half in use when doing simple things.  When I go to edit photos, I'm in trouble, with RAM generally full and virtual memory has to resort to the 7200 rpm hard drive.  Intolerably slow would be the key phrase but it's possible to remember with 4 MB of RAM was a full set and my Atari 1040 ST (with modification) would fly at 8 MHz.  That was a monochrome system with a 640x400 display.

The MacBook Pro supported 1440x900 and this Omen has a 1920x1080 display--the not so good display, that is standard.  Hey, if I can edit from lesser displays in the past, can I work with lesser displays in the present?  Of course, I can.

However, using Phase One Capture One Pro has been a bit tedious, especially if I'm using Luminar 2018 at the same time.  If I try to also use Magix Movie Edit Pro and/or Xara Designer Pro, things might grind to a halt.

I just ordered 32 GB, in two RAM sticks, with sales tax, etc. for just a bit less than the two pieces were by themselves just a few weeks ago.  G.Skill RAM works well and is trusted.  My needs may not be as specific or hard core as the gamers who would also buy products from the brand, but high performance, reliable products are necessary.

I considered 16 GB but half of my 8 GB is in use doing almost nothing.  Trying to make video with 16 GB might leave me with almost nothing and virtual memory will ruin the performance and I'd be back to intolerably slow performance, plus I'd spent money to arrive there.  Considering the drop in price, it didn't make sense to go with the lower capacity.

I also ordered a toolkit from iFixit, so I should be able to open the machine and put things right easily.  Previously, I had two Husky drivers (from Home Depot) and two Kobalt drivers (from Lowes), which helped quite a lot.  I made the modifications to the MacBook Pro quickly and easily, while being watched, just in case.  It helped train them, also.  I've watched the video reviews of this machine and they opened it fairly easily.  It's just a matter of remembering which screws go where, just like always.

I will have to wait for drive improvements.  The machine has an M.2 slot, so it's perfect for a Samsung 970 EVO drive.  1 TB is much more affordable than the 6 Gbps 480 GB drive I put into the MacBook Pro in 2013. I'm just wondering if I happen to have a Samsung 2.5 inch 512 GB SSD drive that I bought a few years ago.  If I can transfer everything to a 1 TB M.2 drive and switch the 1 TB hard disk drive for an SSD drive, also, things will improve.  However, saving money takes time.

Wish me luck!

Update 2019.01.08: I've got the RAM, but couldn't install it, due to a plastic plug covering one screw.  I'm still working on solutions, but I'm about to have someone else install it, and the HP EX920 M.2 1TB I bought for very little.  Hopefully, the cost of installation won't break the bank.  I've had some noise lately, and I'm not sure whether it's one of the fans or the hard drive.  In either case, a gaming laptop computer needs everything working at full throttle.

Update 2019.02.15: It's done.  Both have been installed for US$30 and another US$35 covered cloning the drive data.  That's actually less than I spent on tools to do the work myself.

The machine still doesn't feel faster than the mid-2012 MacBook Pro.