Monday, November 21, 2016

My Volkswagen diesel controversy is almost finished

After months of speculation, perspiration, and anticipation, I've finally received a final offer from Volkswagen on my 2012 Golf TDI.  I feel the first relief that it will be finished soon.

About a year ago, I filed for the Goodwill package in November.  I also filed for it in January, because it never arrived.  I never got the package, even though they said it had been sent.

I could swear that I sent the information about the car months ago.  I went back and forth about whether to receive the buy back or just select a repair for the emissions control.

It was more recently that they asked for the legal documents.  It seemed an eternity to get a response, even though it was supposedly a ten day window.  Thankfully, uploading photos of the documents speeded the response.

Today, I received the final offer letter.

It was necessary to print, sign, have it notarized, and send it back as a .pdf format file.  Once again, uploading will speed the process.

The next step seems to be the exchange of money and the car.  They are offering to electronically send the funds, which is quite a bonus.  It would have been quite a walk from the Volkswagen dealer to the bank and then, to look at cars.  Funds availability is my question.  Hopefully, they'll be available nearly as soon as they will have been received.

Update 2016.12.02: Got a notification to schedule an appointment to finalize documents.  There is no word of payment to me.

The first appointment was on the 17th of this month, which suggests to me that the buy back will happen ever further out, maybe in January.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Ballistic Cases for Apple iPhone 7

Since the iPhone 5c, I've settled on one brand of case: Ballistic.

Sure, I tried Otterbox and it saved me headaches, but as the size of phones has increased, Ballistic's hard and soft surfaces seem to fit my pocket better and their crash testing seems correct.

How much is a case worth on a US$749 phone?  You only have to look at a few drops and the repairs to see that US$34.99 isn't much to prevent repairs over the life of a phone.

This time, I bought two Tough Jacket cases, one white and black, and the other black.  At the time, they were on discount at US$19.99 each.  Now, they're US$34.99 each.  Signing up for their newsletter will notify you of discounts.

Apparently, you can use these for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s, as well, but you can't use the earlier phone cases, as it partly covers the camera lens.

I don't get anything for doing this but here is the link:

Friday, November 4, 2016

The perfect imaging sensor size: There isn't one.

Every time I visit web sites or online forums, I see the silliness that 135 Format is a virtual panacea for all things photographic.  It isn't.

I've photographed quite a bit since 1977, with several formats of film and several types of cameras.  While you could take a photo with any of them, they didn't all work the same nor did they give the same results.  However, when you needed a photo, you could generally get the photo with any of them.

This is true today, as well.  Any of the current sensors are good and much better than film, in most cases.  (As with CDs versus vinyl records, some people hold to film having that analog look.)  Sure, they all have slightly different characteristics, and some differences are very slight indeed but you can get the shot, except in some extreme cases.

Over the years, I've seen a lot of people who spend 15 minutes getting a photo of a flower, but they can't get it right.  They need the next lens or the next body or something else, and they end up with a huge collection of equipment that they don't know how to use well.

I suspect that these are the loudest voices in the online forums and in the comments of web sites.  It's a bit difficult to get past all the silliness of these people when they're constantly annoying with the same, tired argument.

To me, a real photographer can pick up some equipment, experiment, and get great shots quickly, regardless of the film or sensor size.

I've been reminded that anyone who picks up a camera is a photographer, but I'm not sure I believe that.

In any case, learn how your equipment works--take it off Auto.  Make mistakes and learn from them.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Got the Olympus 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6

As much as I like ultimate image quality, there is no such tangible thing.  Sure, you can buy a Medium Format system and tweak every setting but unless it conveys the emotions you feel, is all the work worth it?

Since I photograph sports, the Panasonic GM5 seemed an odd choice.  It’s tiny and because of that, it’s big on compromise.  e.g., the mechanical shutter only goes to 1/500 of a second.

At the time, I got the GM5 with the 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens and the 42.5mm f/1.7 Power OIS lens.  I already had the Panasonic/Leica 15mm f/1.7 and the 25mm f/1.7 lenses.

For a while, I’ve struggled with telephoto shots.  Since I have a heart defect that is killing me, I can’t just run (or walk) where I want to be.  Sometimes, I have trouble standing.

Now, I have the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 lens, plus my Olympus ZD 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 and SHG 35-100mm f/2.0 lenses.  Even the small Panasonic lens is rather too big for the GM5.

As the Olympus 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6 is often available with a US$100 rebate, I decided to try it.  It seems to be the tiniest telephoto zoom lens I’ve ever seen.  Panasonic’s 35-100mm f/4.0-5.6 may be smaller but I had so little luck with the 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6 that I didn’t want to spend the extra money.  Besides, the extra 50mm of reach was useful.

The salesperson referred to it as “the cheap lens” and kind of choked on his words.  I didn’t see the manager, but I nodded and grinned.  US$100 is a low price for a lens, with rebate, of course.  At US$200, it’s probably overpriced, but they run the rebate so often, does anyone pay full price?  The Panasonic 35-100mm f/4.0-5.6 designed for the GM5 was US$250.  This 40-150mm is the third US$100 lens, after the Panasonic 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6 and the 25mm f/1.7.

The one thing I noticed right after removing it from the bubble wrap was that it had a plastic mount.  I remembered all the original Canon Digital Rebel/300D bodies with part of the kit lens still mounted while the rest of the lens was not attached.  I’m a bit rough on my equipment but I treat the GM5 with more care, so maybe it will be fine.

The lens is light, consistent with its small maximum aperture.  It looks fairly big on the GM5 but not any worse than my 35-100mm f/2.0 on the Olympus E-1.

40-150mm f/4.0-5.6 35-100mm f/2.8

50-200mm 40-150mm 35-100mm f/2.8 and f/2.0

Olympus 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6 beside GM5 and 12-32mm

Panasonic 12-32mm beside Olympus 40-150mm on GM5

Panasonic 12-32mm beside Olympus 40-150mm on GM5
Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0 on GM5
At US$199.99, I want to compare it to a Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 I had for Nikon that cost exactly that.  With over 11x zoom, the Tamron was quite useful and I knew that there would be deficiencies.  The Olympus lens is just under 4x zoom range and should be quite clear, for the same price.  It isn't bad, but at the 150mm end, the results so far haven't been consistent.  I've tried it on the GM5 and E-M1 so far but not on the GH4 or GX8.  I may have to re-work my grip on the GM5 for maximum stability, especially while shooting at skate parks.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Apple's newest MacBook Pro lineup: what is it?

My eyes have been crossed ever since the Apple announcement last week.  I'm just not sure what the company was trying to accomplish and how they ended up at this point.

The Touch Bar looks like great technology and in the video editing portion of the demonstrations, I was enthusiastic.

However, they removed some products, such as the 11 inch MacBook Air and the 15.4 inch MacBook Pro with only Intel graphics hardware.  At least, I believe that's what they did.  My eyes are still crossed.

I recognize that the MacBook Air has become less popular and they make the MacBook Pro line thinner and the MacBook exists just to draw people closer with its bling-y looks.  Supposedly, my iPhone 7 is faster than the MacBook and MacBook Air.  The MacBook with Intel Core M processors is slow indeed.

US$2399 and $2799 seem about right, but maybe a bit extra.  My mid-2012 refurbished machine came at a slight discount in January 2013.  It's difficult to believe that someone would pay $1999 for a MacBook Pro with Intel Iris Pro graphics hardware but there is one in the refurbished list for $300 off at $1699.  I'm thinking that they were introduced at $1499.  Then again, I remember paying for a Wall Street-era Apple laptop computer with passive display for $2600 something around 1998, and that was the cheap 233 MHz model.

It still feels as though the changes in specification aren't enough.  However, I remember when 66 MHz or 133 MHz seemed as big a change as we were getting when Motorola couldn't enhance the PowerPC G3 or G4 further.  Intel is mostly at that point now.

The updated Radeon graphics hardware is appreciated in the higher level machines.  Switching to USB C for everything makes sense.  Leaving the headphone jack does not.  Where are the Lightning connectors, so I can use my ear buds, etc.?  Does the new iPhone come with a USB C adapter?  No.

If I had the $2399 to spend easily, would I replace my current machine with the newest one?

Update 2016.11.04: A lot of people are complaining that the RAM is limited to 16 GB.  One person wrote Phil Schiller who replied that the current technology is such that more RAM would diminish battery life.  It seems that Intel isn't very good at designing processors--or this is a situation of planned obsolescence.

Others are complaining about the ports.  I'm finding it interesting to require a dock or a lot of cables to convert to the proper connector.

Further, a company called Plugable has noticed that their products are not compatible with Thunderbolt 3 in the new computers, because they use a Texas Instruments controller.  This isn't the first time I've heard of TI doing a half-ass job but it certainly is a problem that will be rectified with new controllers from the company.

I'm just not sure these new machines are compelling enough, especially for the wait.

The Touch Bar is useful.  For all the time that I used a touch screen Windows-based Lenovo Flex 3, I never really found the touch screen completely useful.  The display housing would bounce at my finger pressure, and Lenovo has better hinges than most.  In tablet mode, it could be useful, but who wants a 5 pound, 14 inch tablet?

Microsoft continues to make waves with their Surface lines, but will they actually sell many?  I don't believe so.  For the artist, Wacom has been the name for a very long time.  Of course, that's like saying "No gets fired for buying Microsoft." and things have changed.

For most people, the tablet market is only for replacements now.  I wouldn't expect to see more powerful tablets because of the heat, and the weight for heat dissipation hardware.

If Apple had announced a touch screen-enabled display, I would have expected the MacBook Air and MacBook lines to go away immediately, and a lot of "Macs don't need touch screens" kinds of quotes to be dug up from the past.

So, do you need an updated MacBook Pro that isn't much different?  It may all come down to killer Touch Bar additions.

Thinking back to when I was a IRC channel operator and then, moderator for the world's largest Apple-related forums, I remember people building lists of unachievable things for Apple to do with their next revision of whatever machine was next.  They had to be big and powerful and slim and light--at the same time.  Oh, and they had to all be 12 inch laptop computers, similar to the one IBM Japan made for Apple.

Naturally, almost nothing came true because what they wanted wasn't realistic.  This time, the machines are good and powerful, and didn't have anything that anyone wanted, of course.  I gave up on the forums around 8 years ago (after iPhone arrived), although I made a cameo appearance as an Olympic torch bearer for 24 hours or so.  I didn't understand it, so I can't explain it to you.

Why are brand fanatics so--fanatical?

Update 2016.11.13: Got my hands on the new 13 inch MacBook Pro without Touch Bar.

The speakers on each side of the keyboard are, as they say, long overdue.  The track pad is !@#$ huge.  I can only think that the size of the track pad is to overcome the touch screen alternative.  My experience with the capable Lenovo Flex 3 14 inch tells me that touch screen is a good idea but even the best hinges have trouble keeping the display steady when you're poking it.  You can put it into a 14 inch tablet mode, which was seemingly heavy and hot.  The new, huge track pad may be a good idea, even if it looks odd.

I can't say that it is much more powerful.  These days feel like the days when Motorola was lucky to eek out an extra 66 MHz to the clock speed.  For the most part, all of the i5 processors are powerful enough to handle most jobs.  Handling video production is another matter.  My mid-2012 15.4 inch MacBook Pro with 2.6 GHz i7 struggles at times--at 100 degrees C.

I'd be happy to try one of the 15.4 inch models.  Certainly having a newer GPU would improve processing power when working on video.

Update 2016.11.23: Saw the Touch Bar-included MacBook Pro models, 13 and 15.4 inch.

There is a US$900 gap between the two sizes, especially since there is no Intel-only graphics 15.4 inch machine.  It's unfortunate that there is no room for better heat dispersion in the 13 inch model since it's so (increasingly) thin.  I'd be more than happy to have a thicker, small model to fit around US$1799.

The Touch Bar was usable, quick, and easy to understand for the function key replacements.  I suppose I should have tried to see if Final Cut Pro was installed to see the timeline enhancements in the Touch Bar.  Instead, I looked at the US$2399 of the 15.4 inch machine in front of me and considered that my mid-2012 machine was just fine.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Beginning again with iPhone 7

Just a day later, Sprint sent me a Gold iPhone 7.  Considering how many people are waiting for Jet Black, I feel as though I've jumped in line ahead of them.

This was an easy choice.  My iPhone 6 is nearly two years old.  It has been good enough for a long time, but I've noticed trouble charging it.  Thinking back, I stopped using a cable because it didn't seem to charge the phone well.  Maybe, it has always been a slight issue.

In any case, the extra power and extra battery life will help.  I tried one running Asphalt 8, which I play, and it was smoother.  It could have been the demo version, but I suspect it would have been a bit erratic on any iPhone 6 also.

Set up is a bit dodgy, considering that I'm doing everything myself, including the activation from home.  Sprint's instructions are not incredibly clear--but they know what they meant.  It's similar to their vanity pages where they don't know the difference (8 times) between MB and Mb.  I sometimes wonder if their performance in some areas should be rated in the impossible mb.

I connected the new phone to the computer and let iTunes restore the data and settings from the old phone.  After that, I clicked to activate on Sprint's web site.

Now, the phone is resolving all of the new apps and data.  It's taking quite a while because I have so much.  Going from 64GB to 128GB will give me breathing room.  I had around 8GB free in general.

It shows iOS 10.0.2 is ready to be installed, and before the phone was even ready to be used, a new set of carrier settings was placed on the phone.  I suspect that there may be a few.  T-Mobile and Verizon both needed updates.  Hopefully, 10.1 will provide a lot of bug fixes in the near future.

The Home button works much, much, much better than the demo units I've tried.  It reminds me of the MacBook Pro trackpads.

The phone itself seems very close to the iPhone 6, so it will probably be okay in my current Ballistic case until my iPhone 7 cases arrive on Friday.  The company had a good deal and I bought one black and one black/white case at US$19.99 each, instead of the US$34.99 that I paid for the other Ballistic case two years ago.  Considering the price of a repair when dropping one of these US$749 phones, the price of a heavy duty case isn't much.

I will likely get a glass screen protector, as the last one has been good.  It is only cracked a little around one edge and definitely seems worth US$29.99.  With more competition, perhaps ZAGG has dropped their price or increased its ability to be smudge resistant.

I'm not always enamored of Apple but their phones have been just short of great, for me.  Their operating system quality often makes it more difficult than it should be.  It's been that way on the computers as well.  After all the fuss about downloading operating system updates without permission, they did it to me on my Mac with macOS sierra.

I'll talk about my first impressions of use shortly.

Update 2016.10.31: The phone is up to iOS 10.1.1 now.  Since 10.1, App Store can't count and the badge count is smaller than the actual update count.  At first, it was only showing non-Apple apps to be updated, but now, there doesn't seem to be a logic.  It's just an incorrect number.

I didn't get the glass screen protector.  With AppleCare + handling screen replacement at $29, and it was $129 for the warranty, I'm not so sure whether to bother.  The case is working very well.

 The phone's construction is very good and phone calls are fairly clear.  The last phone that I felt was extremely clear was a Sanyo PM-8200 flip phone that was oh, so thick.  Ten years have passed and we apparently want everything thin, thin, thin.  It's better through the ear buds.

The audio adapter works fine.  I've tried it on my now dead Sennheiser ear buds and my Beyerdynamic studio style headphones.  There is no crackling sound.

I'm not sure about the battery life.  I don't believe that it has improved.  Given that the iPhone 6 wasn't as powerful or efficient, I expected more.  The iPhone 7 is definitely more powerful and games work more smoothly but is the battery life better when the phone is idle?  It feels as though the battery is being drained more quickly than the iPhone 6.  It isn't awful and it may be corrected by firmware sometime in the future.  Perhaps, I set my expectations too high.

The display is good, better than expected, at times.  I've been using personal computers since 1981 when I first attached a black and white TV to my machine.  Displays have usually been awful, especially if they were compatible with a wide variety of machines.  Phone displays are rarely great, despite what numbers they calculate in a laboratory.  Do you live in a laboratory?  I don't.

The only displays I've seen that look truly great are those of the LG 4K OLED TVs.

Unfortunately, the software quality has a large effect on how the phone works and Apple is still trying to get this under control.  When I got the iPhone 6, I was concerned but the 64-bit processor was introduced in the iPhone 5s, and I felt safe enough to take the leap.  It seemed that they were more concerned with the size of the displays.

This time, there are a lot of little glitches and I'm sure they'll work them out eventually.

I enabled two-step authentication on my MacBook Pro with 10.12.1 and the next time I went into a game, Game Center wanted me to enter a code.  I couldn't really read the whole window because it was squeezed to fit.  I really wasn't sure what was supposed to happen since the phone was the target of the text messages.

Once, I asked for the code to be sent again, I got no text message and authentication automagically took place.

I must say that I'm fairly happy.  It's better and it's faster and the extra $1.50 per month and the $100 upfront don't hurt too much.  Paying for AppleCare + again and getting new cases added to the expense but every two years, that isn't that horrible.

Update 2016.11.22: At iOS version 10.1.1, things seem okay but not quite good.

The phone seems powerful but not at its full potential.  There are inconsistencies where it will lag but not such that I could point to one app.

LTE seems much better with the Qualcomm chipset.  It hangs onto the signal much longer than the iPhone 6 did.  I suspect that throughput will also be much better, but I haven't been in a lot of Sprint signal friendly areas lately.  I got 68 Mbps at the local skate park with the iPhone 6, but I haven't checked with the iPhone 7 the one time I was recently there.

I noticed that the display brightness was set far too low, probably to show impressive battery life.  Unfortunately, I also need to be able to see what's on the display.  According to the battery monitor, most usage applies to audio.  Using the ear buds might help battery life then.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

BlackBerry to be a software-only company

Years ago, their phones were known as Crackberry because people were so addicted to the devices.  Now, you can barely see one.  Today, the company formerly known as RIM (Research in Motion) has given up on the hardware end of things.

Is this surprising?  No.  The people at RIM and Nokia both laughed at Apple's iPhone, considering it less than even minimal competition.

While both companies made some attempt at fighting Apple, it didn't work.  Nokia had already had the Symbian operating system, which was supposedly so much more but obviously, wasn't enough.  (It always looked to me as though Nokia had young children creating their icons.  I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out my Nokia flip phone before looking at the manual.)

RIM bought QNX, a real-time operating system from the early days of the IBM PC.  They shaped it into a mobile operating system but as their hardware sales dwindled, it didn't make enough of a reputation to get important applications written for it.  Microsoft is still struggling with this problem, even though it's quite well known.

In any case, that famous BlackBerry keyboard may be no more.