Friday, August 30, 2013

September 10: Apple, Olympus

There must be something extra special about September 10th this year.

I've seen hints that Apple will reveal new products, mainly but not limited to iPhone and iPad.  Also, Olympus has new products to show on the same day.  There have been quick bits about other companies, as well.

Olympus should have at least their new micro Four-Thirds camera body, E-M1, and a new lens for it, a 12-40mm f/2.8 at the high end.  (Don't be surprised if Panasonic counters quickly with a GH5, which could be available before the end of the year--in very limited quantities.)

Apple, of course, is nearing the end of their annual sale for students.  That means it's time for new models.  Obviously, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, and MacBook Pro models will be revised.  You should also expect that iOS version 7 and Mac OS X 10.8.5 will be available that day.  OS X Mavericks may be available but I'd be afraid to install it so soon.  I'm still waiting for Apple to fix 10.8.4 and iOS 6.1.3.

Will the Mac Pro be available?  Who knows?  I've heard zero from anyone.

I'm expecting a surprise that has not been mentioned, although I'm not sure it will be shown so soon but certainly before the end of the year.  It should be available within the holiday shopping season.  (No, no, it's not the Nintendo 2DS!  That's interesting, but not exactly shocking.)

Update 2013.09.10: Olympus E-M1 and 12-40mm f/2.8 lens announced.  iPhone 5s and 5c announced.  It was a slow day.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Silver lenses work on black camera bodies!

It's sad, but finding stores that have something other than Nikon, Canon (and possibly Sony) photographic equipment is difficult.  Finding (micro) Four-Thirds equipment is close to impossible outside of New York City.

Yesterday, I had the chance to try the Olympus E-M5 body, 12mm f/2.0, and 75mm f/1.8 in three different stores.  None of them had even two items.

First, I went to Cord Camera in the Kenwood section of Cincinnati.  I was told previously that this store had plenty of micro Four-Thirds equipment and I should go there, instead of the store on the west side.

I asked specifically about the 12mm f/2.0 and the 75mm f/1.8.  They didn't have them, but the salesperson made a call to the other store, and they had the 12mm f/2.0, so they held one for my inspection.  In the meantime, I asked to try the E-M5, since they obviously had one.

My impression: too small, though the grip made it less slippery than my OM-1N.  It felt reasonable with my Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 lens.  They only had the economy lenses, so I didn't bother with those.  I wanted to take a few shots but it didn't like my 32 GB San Disk Extreme Pro card from my Panasonic GH3.  I even tried to re-format it, and it didn't want to work with it at all.  Except for that, I found the body to be agreeable, even though the size is a problem for me.

After this, I spent a bit of time at the Kenwood Towne Centre mall and didn't find much interesting, even in the Apple store or the Microsoft store--at opposites, as the Apple store was difficult to navigate with all the people, the Microsoft store had five employees, and no one else to navigate.

As I left the mall, I happened upon a store I'd been trying to find: Dodd Camera.  In the state of Ohio, there are two of their stores with medium format equipment, and this was one of them.  Of course, I didn't ask, but they had a bit of everything, including the Fuji X-series cameras in a jewelry case.  They looked quite precious.

Here, I tried the 75mm f/1.8.  Even though it's very small, I found it agreeable and very sharp.  My micro Four-Thirds experience has been rough and the 75mm lens was a great surprise.  Whether it's worth the price, I'm not sure.  I can mount my Olympus ZD 35-100mm f/2.0 and get amazing results.  Would I spent close to US$1000 on a single focal length that has been covered multiple times in my equipment bags?

The people at both stores were very gracious and made no rude remarks about the format.  I'm so accustomed to brand fanatics, and their lack of discipline that I'm always pleased (and amazed) to find stores without them.  I suppose I could be considered a brand fanatic since I currently only have Olympus and Panasonic equipment, but I believe "the right tool for the job" is what you need to do the work.

As I had the west side Cord Camera store holding a lens (with no obligation!) for me, I went to see that one.  They moved the store--in the same strip mall.  It says "Don't Panic!" but as Douglas Adams knows, people panic first, ask questions later.

The rather friendly people at Cord Camera brought out the 12mm f/2.0.  Both this and the 75mm reminded me both of jewelry and scientific equipment.  They're also like 1950s photographic equipment, especially the German equipment.

The 12mm lens was quick to focus, but not quite as quickly as the 75mm on my GH3.  After a few shots, I removed it, and then, remembered the Clutch/Pull to enable manual focus functionality.  It immediately showed "MF" in the viewfinder as I enabled it.  As much as I've complained about using manual focus on the too short Panasonic 35-100mm lens I have, I had to make a special effort to focus the tiny 12mm lens.

One thing you'll be glad to know: silver lenses work on black camera bodies.  You can do it!  (The 12mm f/2.0 I tried was silver, not champagne color, as with one I tried years ago.  Why does Olympus have 3 variants of silver?)

My opinion stands that Olympus has a few good lenses: 12mm f/2.0, 45mm f/1.8, 75mm f/1.8, and Panasonic has the 7-14mm f/4.0 and 8mm f/3.5 fisheye.  If these focal lengths appeal to you, you'll get some really amazing shots, I'm sure.  (I could say that the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 and 35-100mm f/2.8 are good lenses, but my 35-100mm f/2.8 makes me feel that I wasted my money on a lens that's only worth half the price.)

Update 2014.02.17: I was looking at recent combination deals and while they had a black 17mm f/1.8, a black 45mm f/1.8, and a black 75mm f/1.8, the company refuses to produce a non-limited edition 12mm f/2.0.  I saw it with a US$200 price reduction and it was still way too expensive.   After the Kowa announcement, I've seen people refer to the "panda" lenses as something they didn't want to put on their camera bodies because they weren't a single color.

Update 2015.08.15: The black 12mm f/2.0 lens is now standard, but of course, without an included lens hood.  Thankfully, the "PRO" lenses include lens hoods.   The 8mm f/1.8 fisheye has the built-in lens hood, as does the 7-14mm f/2.8.  Olympus has really improved their lens selection, and so has Panasonic.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Google pushing Google+, through YouTube this time

Is this their way of trying to knock down Facebook?  They push users into Google+, as they did earlier when requiring you to take Google+ to get a mail account.

I posted my first YouTube video (a car dealer did the free 20,000 mile service but a defective part or their fat fingers apparently caused a massive fuel leak and they didn't notice it--or replenish the fuel after "solving" the issue) but when I went to the web interface, it told me that it was "upgrading" my experience.  It wanted to change my name and other characteristics to be compatible with Google+.  I clicked that I was fine with the current name and tried to continue.  I was told that I had to tick the box saying that I was fine with Google+ terms and conditions.

I already had Google+ and didn't like it.  I don't want to be a Google fanatic.  I don't want to listen to Google fanatics.  I don't want to listen to Apple fanatics, either.  I don't like fanatics!!!  :-D

I can see where I'm going to have to rid myself of this blog, as well as the YouTube account, my e-mail account, and everything else Google, if I want to continue.  Gaaaaaaaaaaah!!!!1111oneoneone

If Google is the salvation of humanity, why can't they just let me save myself?  Join!  Join!  Join!

It's not that I hate Google.  In fact, I appreciate that they've been pushing both Microsoft and Apple to do better.  I tried their 2012 Nexus 7--actually two of them--and returned them both, but was thankful that the experience with Android 4.x was so much better than 2.x.

Update 2013.11.07: I ended up submitting to Google to change my name on YouTube, which they took as free rein to add Google+ to my Google account.  Gee, thanks.  Now, they can say that they have another Google+ user during their next numbers boasting speech.  I won't be using Google+ though.

I'm as upset with Apple recently turning off synchronization of Contacts within iTunes on (Mac) OS X 9.x, which is part of the reason I'm slow to adopt new operating system versions.  Of course, while re-writing the iWork apps, they threw out functionality, as they did with Final Cut Pro X.  They have mostly redeemed themselves with the additions to Final Cut Pro X, but iWork is being given away with new machines.  They want feature parity across (Mac) OS X and iOS but they can't or won't add to the iOS versions.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Concerned about Olympus' next Four-Thirds move

I've been using Four-Thirds equipment since around April 2004 with the E-1, 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5, and the 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5, plus FL-50.  At times, it's been a chore to not jump ship.

When I first bought the E-1, I was amazed at the color rendition and clarity.  Outside, during the hurricanes of 2004 in Florida, I was impressed with the durability and weather-sealing.  I looked at Nikon, Canon, and Pentax prior to buying into Four-Thirds and none of them were very good at the time.  Certainly, I would have spent much more money but many things have changed since then.

In 2004, raw development software was almost non-existent, save what the camera maker included.  Olympus put out JPEG files that were so far ahead of the competition that it wasn't funny.

Since then, I've changed to the E-5 as my day-to-day camera body with the Panasonic GH3 as a backup, but the E-1 is still there just fine.  I've added the 35-100mm f2/.0 and 14-35mm f/2.0 SHG lenses and the 50mm f/2.0 macro, plus the Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4.  They work fine on all three bodies.

I'm considering this new Olympus body.  There have been some rumored specifications, and they look reasonable, considering the micro Four-Thirds E-P5.  There was a "leaked" video, supposedly from Engadget using an Olympus representative of some sort.  What I saw was sloppy and led me to believe that it's fake but who knows?  For the first two minutes, the Olympus representative referred to Four-Thirds and Four-Third.

While I doubt my hand is as big as his hand, I think that a camera body the size of the E-M5 with a grip reminiscent of the E-1 but sort of welded onto the body in a haphazard way will not work well, except in casual photography.  micro Four-Thirds has mostly been about casual photography, except for those few professionals.  I believe that the latest sensors are quite good and produce great image quality. but that's not enough when photographing sports.

If I can't get the shot, who cares how great the image quality is.  I've tried this multiple times with the GH3 and I want to throw the thing.  The EVF stands in the way of getting the shots.

What's the problem?  To photograph runners, you need to be able to change the focus quickly and put it on a certain runner.  Auto focus works willy-nilly, so it goes mostly where you don't expect it, even in high end cameras from Nikon and Canon---that's why professionals shoot so many shots rapid-fire.  In order to use manual focus, which is my preference, you need to keep the assistance to a minimum.  Most micro Four-Thirds cameras with generate a magnified view to help you.  This gets in the way of what I'm doing, whereas an optical viewfinder just shows the view.  Of course, back in the 1970s and 1980s, we had multiple focusing screens to help us.

I suppose what I will see is a huge compromise.  A too-light camera body with a lens adapter with good auto focus capabilities, but otherwise, all the problems of a mirror-less camera body.  It's not that the E-5 isn't a compromise over the E-1--it is--but it works well for what I do.  However, it has terrible image quality as the light dims, even though with studio lighting, it's quite good.

Could they have used the E-1 or E-5 bodies and just replaced the innards?  I suspect that they could have.  Would the 1.8 inch rear display of the E-1 been a problem for today's video-oriented crowd?  Certainly, but just give me a !@#$ stills camera that works almost as an extension of my body!!  (Update 2013.11.13: Nikon has done that with the Df body.  It's all about still photography, although the price and changing format is not high on my list.  The technology is great, the slippery body is not.)

What I haven't mentioned is the cost of manufacturing a single, low quantity body.  They showed this when they extended the E-30 production until exhaustion, without an update to an E-50.

What gets to me is how clumsy they've been since the initial E-1.  Instead of a replacement in 2005, they produced several consumer-oriented dSLRs, and waited (or couldn't help a delay) until 2007 to produce a professional, 2005-level dSLR.  Equally, the E-5 arrived in 2010, but would have been a great 2007 model.  People blame the financial fraud, but I doubt that had anything to do with it.  I believe that they had people in charge of projects who should have only been making tea.

I understand quite well about projects, deadlines, cost, and mistakes.  If you're methodical, you'll do well, but if you aren't, everyone suffers.  Regardless, accidents happen.  The E-M1 looks like a huge accident, in opposite ways from the E-3, but just as big an accident.

Update 2013.08.24: I've seen a few more photos of the E-M1 and they look as though it's not a rough pre-production unit.  It looks quite a bit better but still tiny.  The 12-40mm f/2.8 looks very good, but too stylish, as if it's been made to be in photos and not made for photography.   I just hope it works well, since the very average Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 doesn't appeal to me at US$1200.

Update 2013.11.13: After using both the E-M1 and the 12-40mm f/2.8 lens, I'm happy for Olympus to be pushing itself further, thanks to Panasonic.  Competition is a great thing.  I like the E-M1 but it doesn't fit my hand well.  The 12-40mm f/2.8 is a must have for me.  I can only hope that the Panasonic GH3 will be replaced by a GH5 with the same sensor and some greater focusing speed.

Update 2014.05.03: It's been some time since I tried the E-M1 and Panasonic's GH3 replacement has been announced as the GH4, although the GH3 is being continued for a while, as a lower cost body.

The E-M1 has done quite well, and I've considered it time and again.  The GH4 doesn't have Phase Detection pixels but it may work as well as the E-M1 when focusing my Four-Thirds lenses.  The GH3 generally does well enough, except for the 14-35mm f/2.0 and 50mm f/2.0 and those can both be a handful, even on the E-5 or E-1.

Update 2015.01.10: I've had an E-M1 since June 2014, trading my GH3.  It's been good but not great.  Around Thanksgiving, I got a GH4, thanks to a US$200 off deal.

I still don't think that the E-M1 is a true successor to the E-5...or E1, but it is what the company decided would be available.  It works well enough but I don't see that it's good enough with Four-Thirds lenses.  The balance is off, starting with my 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5.  Obviously, the 35-100mm f/2.0 is not a good lens for balance with the E-M1--or the GH4.  It is good with the E-5 and nearly as good with the E-1.

I still believe that they should have used the E-1 body as the basis for the E-M1.  The video capabilities of the E-M1 aren't great, so they should have just given us a stills camera body.

After all this time, I still go back to my E-1 and E-5 when I want to use my Four-Thirds lenses, except for the Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4, which fits nicely on the GH4 and is more than acceptable with the E-M1.

Update 2016.12.14: The E-M1 Mk II is more-or-less available at this time.  It is the successor to the E-5, in most every way.  I still don't like the grip.  I felt that the grip from the E-5 was comfortable, as is the grip on the GH4.  The GH4 seemed as the physical successor to the E-5 or E-1 bodies.

The E-M1 Mk II supposedly handles every situation well, although low light situations are never easy.  I'd like to see how the auto focus works around 10 in the evening.  I don't have trouble with the GH4, but the E-M1 tends to hunt.

Since the Mk II has 121 cross-type sensors, both PDAF and CDAF, it should be just short of phenomenal.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

5702 miles

That's a long drive.

You can see from my iPhone photos how far I've been

Of course, it wasn't coast-to-coast, as I'd be in the ocean but even round trip, that sounds like a lot.  I remember 2800 miles from the Orlando, Florida area to Los Angeles, California in 2005/2006.  My car (2012 VW Golf TDI) averaged just under 40 mpg with air conditioning, compared to the 1999 VW Golf 2.0, which likely averaged 28-29 mpg with some use of air conditioning.

My latest drive took me on:

U.S. 64
U.S. 71
U.S. 66
U.S. 60
California SR 99
California SR 58
California SR 46
California SR 152
U.S. Hwy 101

I believe that was the order.  I started on the edge of Ohio/Indiana, traveled into Illinois, through Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and finally into California.

A lot of I-40 crosses/replaced U.S. Highway 66 but not in the hearts and minds of those who were young at the time.  There seemed to be a lot of nostalgia from Arizona to Oklahoma--diners, casinos, museums, and gift shops.

I seem to remember my parents going this way (on U.S. 66, calling it the southern route, compared to taking U.S. 40 through Denver) when I was a small child, and we spent some time on I-40 in 1977 on a trip to/from Mexico.  I was surprised to see how Tucumcari, New Mexico had grown from a restaurant on one side of the road and filling station on the other side to something like 30 restaurants, including all the chains you'd expect.

It wasn't a bad drive, although rain and other situations caused my trip to be lengthened.  e.g., I stopped in Conway, Arkansas due to massive thunderstorms, when I wanted to be on the western edge of the state.  I had planned to stop in Albuquerque but the motel ratings were so low that I stopped in poor, little Moriarty, NM instead.

I had somehow planned that I could go from Albuquerque, NM to San Jose, CA in one 13 hour drive.  However, I wanted to photograph two Madonna of the Trail statues (one in Albuquerque, NM and another in Springerville, AZ).  I stopped in Gallup, NM at Plaza Cafe for breakfast since it was so highly rated and it was worth the trip, but photographing the statue in Arizona was a huge detour (100 miles each way, maybe), and I lost time, especially with construction, more rain, and bad roads.  Had there been flooding along those U.S. highways to Springerville, I'd been in real trouble.  So, I ended up in Barstow, California for the night.  That meant I'd have a 6 hour drive to San Jose.

Getting to Barstow was interesting because it meant crossing the Mojave Desert.  It wasn't a problem, but in fact, a delight to view the sunset behind the small mountains and other geological formations.  Of course, you could claim that I had been in the desert from about Oklahoma, so it shouldn't have been a big deal.

When people think of California, they think of Marina del Rey or the beach at Santa Monica or the palm trees somewhere in Los Angeles.  They don't think of farm country or desert.  For the next 6 hours of my drive, I saw practically nothing but farm country or desert.

My parents never drove from San Jose to Los Angeles, so I didn't know which way to go.  I used Google Maps to print a some directions for different portions.  I used a combination of Apple's Maps app plus Waze to get me where I was going.

North of Tehachapi, it became interesting as the mountains and canyons showed themselves.  Along SR 152/Pacheco Pass Highway, things moved very quickly and it was apparently a typical business route for big rigs, as well as people trying to take their boats and RVs to a state recreational area.  I'm not sure how they got across the traffic as it seemed no one slowed below 65 mph at any time, and some were probably going 90 mph in the occasional Audi or Mercedes-Benz or Porsche.

By the time things were flattened, I'd reached Gilroy and Hollister.  Despite the clothes company's marketing, Hollister, California is not near the beach.  It's a farming community, which may not be as glamorous but it pays the bills.  While traveling through the area, I was treated to many fruit stands offering apricots, pistachios, etc.  Unfortunately, I didn't stop.  It would have been a good way to get fresh pistachios, rather than those things in stores that could be a year old.

San Jose wasn't far.  It was just a trip up U.S. 101.  When I was young, that was the highway.  There was no I-80, I-280, I-680, I-880--or any other 80.  According to my parents, that was El Camino Real--the royal road, and we used it a lot apparently.  It was my first experience in the driver's seat.  I'm fairly sure it was re-shaped, as there was a Bayshore Freeway and Old Bayshore Freeway on this trip.

Finding my way to a motel on North First Street wasn't difficult but neither was amusing myself with the notion of staying in a bad area that didn't seem particularly bad.  The motel was particularly convenient as there was a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) light rail stop just across from the motel.

It was a cheap motel using through (how many travel aggregators are there now?) which saved about $9.99 per day.  I hardly needed luxury since I wouldn't be in the motel most of the time.  As long as the air conditioning and plumbing worked, and I wouldn't be fighting with multiple-legged visitors, I'd be fine.  As with cheaper motels and smaller chains, internet access was an extra expense, but I have a mobile hotspot.

That first evening, I found my way back to the old neighborhood, and it was somewhat disturbing and reassuring.  I didn't expect to be welcomed.  I was too small and it was too long ago.  If anyone remembered me, that would have been shocking.  Even people from high school don't often remember me.  However, I stopped at a certain point, remembering where we were when Overfelt High School was being built.  It's odd to remember such things from a very young age.  There was a many washing his driveway and he was curious as to what I was doing, as I was curious about the house.

I finally walked across the street and walked over to the house, trying to find some fragment of familiarity.  I told him what I was doing to alleviate any concerns he might have.  He was friendly about it.  I couldn't remember the house number.  I'm not sure if I even saw it as an adult.  I commented about the palm trees on the other street.  He mentioned that the yards didn't go back that far, and I mentioned Darwin Way, which was the next street.  He didn't seem to know.  I walked around the block and paused at the intersection at Bermuda Way.  I remember sitting there in a stroller with my mum talking to a Japanese woman named Taka but it was opposite the end of the street, facing the opposite direction, than where I expected to have the feeling.  I never found the palm tree my dad helped plant that was in someone's back yard.  The trees on Darwin Way were out front of the houses.  Maybe, my parents told me differently, or I just didn't remember correctly.

I've had an online acquaintance in the area and he gave me some restaurants to try.  I also made an acquaintance on Yelp and she told me an up-and-coming area, San Pedro Square Market.  I tried my buddy's suggestion for tacos before going to the old neighborhood and it was okay, but such trouble getting there and there was barely any parking.  The next morning, I called VTA and had a little session on how to use their services.  30 minutes later, I was in downtown San Jose looking for San Pedro Square Market.  On the way, I could see multiple Bail Bonds offices.  Uh Oh!  I've been in those areas in other cities and they're not all that great...or safe.

Expectations are everything and expecting San Pedro Square Market to be like Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia was a huge mistake.  There wasn't really anything integrated.  I went into an entrance under the big sign and found a coffee place and a closed bar.  I talked to someone at the coffee place and he was genuinely friendly and interested and then, I got a reasonably-priced, mediocre coffee.  I guess I'm just not a hipster, as the coffee was supposedly really good.

The rest of the area was made up of bars and over-priced restaurants, so I think it's all about perception, and perhaps, how much alcohol you've had.  Of course, friends make the experience more entertaining.  If you don't know how to cook, I'm sure the food tastes better.

I found the whole area to be great, reassuring, and chill.  People were friendly beyond belief.  Los Angeles can be confrontational and to be certain New York City/Philly/New Jersey can be.  During my day in San Francisco, I didn't feel that people were close to friendly, except for a female store owner in Chinatown.

My day in San Fran was spent hoofing it here, hoofing it there, up, up, up, down, down, down and asking "where the hell am I?" far too much.  I ate Italian food in one of the apparently more impoverished neighbourhoods (Tenderloin), and the trick was that it was run by Chinese people.  I was saddened to see another baby formula scandal on the Chinese TV channel while I was there.  The food wasn't bad, especially for the price and the quantity, and every time I looked over at the TV, someone came to fill my iced tea, which was amusing.

I never found Ghiardelli or Apple or Fisherman's Wharf or Cliff House or those things that really make San Francisco.  Apparently, I missed Union Square when I was busy taking photos of a cable car across the street.  Had I turned right, instead of heading toward Tenderloin, I would have found Union Square.  I spend some time on the loading dock (Embarcadero), which was somewhat entertaining but by that time, my feet didn't work well (purple toe?!) and I got all the way to Pier 39 and headed back to the Caltrain station.

Caltrain went from San Jose Diridon station to 4th Street in San Fran for $9.00 each way.  That's a huge bargain.  Parking is more expensive.  Is it a wonder one of the world's larger economies (California) is in such trouble.  They take care of people.  Public transport is a wonderful thing and making it inexpensive is a wonderful but disastrous thing.  Until fuel becomes free, it's expensive to run.  Reading the reviews, I expected that Caltrain was horrible and smelly and it didn't turn out that way at all, but that was one day.

The highlight of San Jose came in two steps: meeting my online buddy, and finding a late night taco place in the old neighborhood that made tacos similar to what my mum learned to make in San Jose.  I only took a few photos and three of those were of the house and the high school and foothills in the old neighborhood.

After that, it was a road trip again.  I returned to the motel at Barstow to collect the pillow I left there.  That was quite reassuring that the motel cleaning staff were so helpful.  I then stopped at the craziest, busiest In-N-Out store to eat, and headed toward Indiana on I-40, once again, across the Mojave Desert.

I stopped at Flagstaff, AZ for the night, ate lunch the next morning at Plaza Cafe in Gallup, NM again, and stopped in Amarillo, TX.  The next night, I stopped early in Alma, Arkansas.  Since I photograph high school sports, a couple of athletes had asked me to consider photographing them during the school year.  Since it was along I-40, it was no big deal to stop to see the town.  It's about 13 hours' drive from home, which isn't terrible.

I used to think that Arkansas was the most backward state.  That's just not true--Indiana is more backward than Arkansas.  It was surprising in a town of 4700+ that they had 2 Mexican restaurants, 4 pizza places, Sonic, and much more.  Plus, they were close to the cities of Fort Smith, Fayetteville, and Bentonville--it was Walmart territory, for sure.

I made an appointment with a Volkswagen dealer for my free 20,000 mile service, thankfully, on Wednesday.  There was a defective part and they resolved it the next day at some loss of fuel for me, and loss of time for both of us.  It gave me time to see the town.  Their bad Walmart was better than any other I've seen.  The local Target store was not nearly as wonderful.  Fort Smith wasn't nearly as friendly as Alma, but overall, the area was quite friendly, neat, and clean--way ahead of Indiana.

I seriously thought about living there but it's not an Asian life, and it's too far from either coast.  I don't hunt or fish, unless you include "shooting" animals with my camera.  Taking two days to get to either ocean wouldn't be my preference.  I have a Yelp friend in Oklahoma City and I've learned a lot about that area and it seems to be full of fake Asian places.  i.e., Japanese places run by Koreans or Chinese, Chinese places run by VietNamese, etc.

I headed home on Friday without trouble.  The car did really well and now has over 22,000 miles on it.  That's about 17,000 considering that I got it around the first of February but it hasn't been nearly as much fuel as the gasoline-powered car, thankfully.  I congratulate Volkswagen on making a diesel engine as easy as a gasoline engine.  I still remember the days when you had to heat the glow plugs and wait (20-30 minutes?) and wait and wait.  Of course, at that time, the price of fuel was much cheaper than gasoline, but at least now, it fuels 50 state, Clean Diesel cars.

The trip averaged 38.67 mpg with a total of $565.50 on fuel.  It could have been $25-$30 less but for the fuel leak.  Considering that the gasoline-powered 1999 Golf GLS averaged a little over 30 mpg on road trips, there was significant savings with 8 mpg more.  It was certainly better mentally to have more range, as certain areas tended to have less of everything available--no restaurants, truck stops, fuel of any kind.

Update: 2013.09.06:  I took the car to the local dealer after the problem with the 20,000 mile service.  They said that they didn't find anything wrong but it still has an odd stuttering.  The service adviser and I were talking about the car.  I bought it around the first of February with over 5500 miles on it--it was a demonstrator.  The day I called for the appointment, I mentioned 23232 miles, as that had just happened and was memorable.  At roughly 18,000 miles extra in 7 months, that's a lot, about 10,000 of which were driven in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and Illinois.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Do you know the way away from San Jose? (updated with photos)

I hit the road Sunday morning, missed all the good traffic on U.S. 101 south of San Jose.  Found Gilroy, but I was too early to buy pistachios or anything fruit or nut-related.  Durn.  I stopped a few times along the way.  It's quite boring on U.S. 101, I-5, SR 99, or SR 58 (except for Pacheco Pass Highway, which has some good vertical angles and some decent speed) on the 6 hour drive from the San Fran Bay Area to Barstow or the Los Angeles area.  You see a lot of farms, which is good because there are a lot of people to feed in California.

I had to laugh at a place in Wasco, CA because I couldn't believe that they were selling Pastrami and Teriyaki at the same place.  I can't imagine a Jewish deli having Japanese food--although I've seen some Kosher-version of a Teriyaki sauce--but not the real marinade.

In fact, there were a lot of Pastrami places along State Road 46 in Wasco.  The Carl's Jr. there had a copy of the original menu with Pastrami on it.  I should have tried it, but I wasn't sure of the quality and being sick on the road is not something I wanted to do.

I stopped briefly at Tehachapi to get fuel and admire the scenery.  It's very pleasant, even at the Love's Travel Stop.  (I've been to plenty of them lately, because they're consistent and do what they say they will.  Besides, getting diesel fuel is still a bit hit-or-miss and I want to make it to the next fill up, even if it is 600 miles away.)

I stopped at the Super 8 motel in Barstow and they still had my special memory foam pillow that's been so good and would be difficult to replace.  I didn't expect that they would be so good.

I went from there to In-N-Out on Lenwood Avenue.  I have never seen such a crowd.  It was difficult to find a parking place at all, but it was attached to a craptacular outlet mall (across from Tanger Outlets), and I parked further away.  Walking into the store (only one of two I've seen with an inside) was even more spectacular with maybe 100 people, more people at outdoor seating, and more yet in the drive-thru line.

It didn't take long to order but getting food took a while, and my food wasn't hot.  In any case, it was better without the spread, California tradition or not.  Carl's Jr./Hardee's has better sandwiches and so does Checkers/Rally's, in my opinion, of course.

I stopped at Del Taco in Kingman, Arizona a second time to get my $1.00 off from my feedback, and had fish tacos that weren't bad.  Safeway grocery store was interesting, trying to look all upscale with the dimmed lighting.  I hadn't been in one since I was a child, although they are Vons in Southern California, for whatever reason.

Had some weird contact with drivers on I-40.  Sunday night, someone with a Kia from California with a pillow where the rear view mirror would go, just wouldn't leave the passing lane.  When I went around him, he had to pass me.  It went on for a while.  Then, Monday morning through Arizona, two men in a Ford crossover from Florida passed me, pulled in front, and slowed down, causing me to change lanes.  This continued for a while.  Finally, I'd had enough and I was speeding at 90 mph for a while.  I slowed down for some construction and guess who was there?  I ended up pulling off at Gallup, New Mexico for lunch, and never saw them again, thankfully but on the way through Texas, someone pulled in front and forgot was speed he was going.  I only had the cruise control set to 76 mph, and he apparently was upset when I had to jump around him to avoid a collision.  Weird.  Then, the same kind of behaviour again.  I swear, I didn't do anything to provoke it.

I had an odd feeling about Tucumcari, New Mexico.  My parents and I had stopped there on the way to Mexico.  There was a restaurant on one side of the road and a filling station with two pumps on the other side of the road--in 1977.  It was 104 degrees F at the time and we got drinks and the ice melted immediately.  Now, they have 3 or 4 exits on I-40 and 30 restaurants, plus motels, trucks stops, etc.

Anyway, I stopped for the night in Amarillo.  I could see a storm in the distance, and I really like to see the road, or after the storm in Arkansas the other night, I like to see the hood of my car.  It was pouring like mad.

Hopefully, from Amarillo, I can make the drive home in one day, 15 hours maybe.  Hopefully, not more than that because I will have to stop.

I made it to Alma, Arkansas in about 6 hours.  I have an acquaintance there and we wanted to spend some time but didn't know about getting together because of schedules.  I ended up staying a couple of extra days and it was good to make a new friend.  It was good that I stayed the extra time, but it didn't go smoothly.

I found a Volkswagen dealer to do my free 20,000 mile maintenance in Fort Smith, AR, but there was a defective part in what was changed and I had a massive fuel leak.  I had more than half a tank with about 245 miles (half a tank is usually 300 miles), and when I got the car I thought that someone had taken a joy ride because it was somewhat below half.

The next day, they fixed the problem, but it bothered me that they didn't notice the problem before I left the dealership.  I'm not blaming anyone, but it was an oversight that cost everyone.  In the end, they did the right thing and fixed it for free, even allowing me a loaner car for a while.  They even apologized almost as much as I do, which was comforting.  However, the technician did not re-fill my tank, even to half, which is close to where it was, despite being told to do so.

I really appreciated the people in the northwest part of Arkansas.  I really didn't expect people to be so friendly.  Sure, people in restaurants and other businesses are supposed to be friendly but that never stopped anyone in Florida from being rude.  I think my only bad experience was when I walked into one of Alma, Arkansas' 4 pizza places (with a population of 4700+) and someone looked at me and laughed.  Whether she was actually laughing at me, I don't know, but it was a rare moment.

People cared and that was something unusual for me.  People in Indiana will do for you in a take-it-or-leave-it fashion, which changed a lot from the 1960s.  Even some people around Philly and New Jersey act that way, although I trust that I know how people feel at all times.  I think people in Florida, Texas, and Arizona just don't give a damn about anything.  San Jose, California seemed a very caring place and they were all friendly to me.  San Francisco wasn't quite as friendly, and Los Angeles can be downright confrontational at times.  San Diego was too sedate to be bothered.  I don't think they help anyone, not even themselves.

If I were to move today, I would hope that I could afford something near San Jose or somewhere in New Jersey not far from the coast.

Update 2015.03.11: I live in a small city in Northern California, as I couldn't afford to live in San Jose.  San Jose is one of the more expensive places in California, and in the country.  This small city is adjacent to another, smaller city, so the area has an aggregate population of around 100,000 people.

I miss the Philly and New Jersey terribly, but the weather they've experienced has confirmed that my decision to live here is a good one.

My trip here was as odd and interesting as the trip in August 2013 was, even though I took a few different paths.

One thing that always resonated with me from the song "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" was the line "LA is a great big freeway, put a hundred down a buy a car."  San Jose has some crazy freeway action, and I'm there often enough to know that it's probably still not as bad as LA from the 1960s.  Having sat on the Hollywood Freeway, inching along, I don't think there is any other place on the west coast that is quite so bad, though crossing the metro LA/OC area took around one hour, mostly sticking close to I-5.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Back in San Jose (and San Francisco), California (updated with photos)

There is something great about feeling comfortable, especially when you've been without that feeling for a long, long, long time.

San Jose, California has special meaning to me.  It's the first place I ever lived in the U.S.A.  It's the third largest city in California, with just under 1 million people.  There are multiple highways/freeways/expressways crossing it.  There are too many cars, but light rail, commuter rail, and buses are available.

Way back when, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) was building down toward San Jose but then, it stopped.  Conflicting opinions and a lack of money forced changes, I suppose.  Building around earthquake central is difficult anyway.

The Light Rail map is fairly extensive
Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority has put together light rail transit at an amazing cost--$6.00 for an adult day pass.  It not only includes light rail, but also access to buses.  That's just amazing to me, especially having used Philadelphia, PA's SEPTA on a daily basis and New York City's MTA on occasion.  SEPTA's Independence Pass is $12.00 for unlimited travel and their day pass is $8.00 but limited to 8 trips.

A typical light rail car

I am conveniently located at a motel along North First Street, and there is a VTA light rail station across from the motel.  This made it extremely convenient to go to downtown San Jose.  On the Winchester-bound train, I can even connect with Caltrain for a $9.00 (one way) trip to San Francisco.  Consider the price (and headache) of parking and that's a huge, huge bargain.  In fact, public transit almost anywhere is a huge bargain.  The last time I was in Philly, I paid $17.10 for parking near Independence Hall for a little over 3 hours.  Obviously, I was paying for the union and not the parking, as it was about double what I paid in 2012 at the same location.

Even though I am essentially a stranger to the city, people have been extremely friendly.  I remember asking people in Los Angeles for help, and people were rather rude, and either didn't know anything or didn't want to give away the secrets.  I also remember people complaining that LA was just weird!  :-D  Of course, people say that San Fran is weird, also!  :-D

I stopped at Walgreens to get something to drink.  For some reason, 7-Eleven does not have stores downtown.  I found zero convenience stores of any kind downtown.  That seems odd.  However, I found a really expensive breakfast, at almost $20.00 with tip, and it was a casual Mexican place.  I could have made better food, to top it.  In line at Walgreens, I was talking to a few people about the weather, as it's really chilly, not exceeding 80 degrees F when 95 wouldn't be unexpected.  Normally, Summer in San Fran can be under 80 degrees F, but not San Jose.

One of the people from the line was giving me some advice and we talked for quite a while about getting around the city and things that were happening.  In my experience, there are few people like that to help a stranger, but time and again, I find that people from San Jose are willing.

I even went to our old neighborhood and looked for our old house.  The builders had plowed a sugar beet field into non-existence to put up houses.  Things are much the same now, and it's the bad side of town but it has a good view and I can't really see a downside to the area, except in people's minds about location.  It's not cheap, as housing prices have rebounded from the worst.  I won't be buying a house here, or even living in an apartment.

A pleasant backdrop to the old neighborhood, on the wrong side of town

There was a man washing off the driveway at the house and I spoke to him briefly.  I was afraid that I scared him, having parked across the street, looking at the houses.  Funny how the little two lane road has four lanes, parking on either side, and a high school directly across from it.  We grow, and the city grows with us.

I could remember bits and pieces from my early childhood there but nothing too serious, I suppose.  Through it all, I had this calm, secure feeling that was certainly never replicated when we moved to the midwest.

San Jose may not coddle you, but it certainly feels that way.  Chill is a great way to describe it.  Now, if I can just find my way to San Fran for some photography.

Update: Wow, I didn't even write about my trip to San Francisco.  When I returned, I was so tired, and my feet hurt, and my toes felt as though they were going to fall off my foot.

I took the Winchester (like the Winchester Rifle company family) VTA train to San Jose Diridon station.  I crossed under the tracks to the Caltrain side of the station.  I bought a second day pass for Caltrain, which was US$18.00, the same as a two way only pass.  Thankfully, any of the trains were going all the way to San Francisco.  There are some express trains that do not stop everywhere in-between, so you have to be careful with the Baby Bullet trains.

It took something like 90 minutes to get to 4th Street, near the Embarcadero (loading dock!), near the AT&T/Candlestick Park.  I walked with the crowd out of the station, not sure exactly where I was going.  I had been in San Fran as a baby and had zero memories.

SoMa, or South of Market district didn't look very good.  It wasn't the worst area but it looked very worn.  I wanted to see a few things like Ghiardelli, Chinatown, the Transamerica tower, a Crumpler store, and an Apple Store, plus possibly ride a cable car, and get seafood.  Little did I know...well, I have the more interesting (but not really good) luck.

Flatiron Bldg., as in Manhattan

It seemed that all I was doing was walking.  I had my camera bag with me, and I assembled the dSLR with the heavier "normal" lens, so I wouldn't have to carry it otherwise.  In hindsight, I should have planned light, and used the lighter, older equipment to ease my burden.

The cable car that led me astray
I did find a cable car full of passengers, most likely tourists because I doubt people from San Fran bother with being pushed and shoved when they're not on BART.  Now, about that time, I was close to Union Square, but did I realize that? Nooooooo.  A right turn probably would have put me near a Ghiardelli Store, an Apple Store, and the Crumpler store.  Oops.

So, I walked, and walked, and walked.  At some point, I needed to stop for various reasons and saw "Little Henry's" which looked like a coffee shop from the 1950s.  There was a Chinese TV station on the TV, and I was seated and given a menu.  I was surprised to see that it was an Italian restaurant.  I took a look at the menu, and mentioned that I forgot the specials, and there was a piece of paper taped to the wall a bit further up that I just didn't see.  I guess I'd been walking far too long to see what was in front of me.  The linguine with clams sounded just right, as it's normally a favorite.

They brought my iced tea, a small basket of bread, and a skimpy (errr, artfully-placed) salad.  I'd ready on Yelp about the overwhelming portions, so I was finding the reviews to be difficult to believe.  While I was waiting, I messaged my buddy in San Jose, asking where I was, but he'd never been to that section, and had no clue.  In a very short time, the food arrived and there was quite a lot, especially for a special of the day.  Thinking about it, I should have asked for chopsticks, but did not.  It's rather difficult to eat pasta with a fork, except maybe for ravioli.  It was good, but it didn't have a lot of taste.  The pieces of clam weren't very big, though it was more than sufficient.

Every time I looked over to see what was on the TV, the server came over with the iced tea and water to fill my glasses.  When I was getting to the end of my food, I asked her about Stockton Street because I wanted to find Chinatown.  She suddenly didn't understand English, and my Zhong Wen isn't sufficient.  After I used the restroom, another woman, apparently the owner, was able to point me in the correct direction--back the way I came!  She suggested a bus number, but I didn't want to wait.  In hindsight, I should have just taken a tour bus and enjoyed the ridiculous banter--and the ride.  I saw plenty of double-decker tour buses, plus the MUNI buses that transport the city.
Stockton Street tunnel, to Chinatown
I didn't have much luck with Maps applications on my phone.  It seems to me that I tried Apple's Maps, Google's Maps, and Waze eventually.  Waze showed me the streets ahead, so that was helpful.  Once I found Stockton Street, I got a good photo of the tunnel, and ventured into Chinatown.  Surprisingly, it wasn't much different than other Chinatowns in other cities.  Eventually, I found a park with some culture center, and lots of people just sitting.  My feet hurt, and because I was thirsty, I found a small shop selling Aloe drinks, which are usually Korean, not Chinese, but the owner was Chinese.  We had a good conversation, and I went back to the park to sit for a while.

Somewhere along the line, I ended up at the entrance to the Transamerica tower and got a few good photos of it from a very tight angle.  It is very tall and could be seen easily from Chinatown, which is at a higher elevation of the city.

Transamerica Pyramid, from Chinatown

I walked to the Embarcadero, once again passing Union Square without seeing it.  I was told to visit Pier 39 on the loading dock (Embarcadero), and it was of course, at the far end.  Sadly, I did not research MUNI, the city transportation, and had no idea how things worked.  I suspect I could have got a pass on the way, or possible, even in the Caltrain station.

Embarcadero Ferry Station, from Sue Bierman Park
 Pier 39 was as close to a New Jersey boardwalk, as I'd ever seen on the west coast.  It lacked the rides of Santa Monica pier but it had the restaurants and shops and other attractions.  As it was a must-see, I was looking for more but it was interesting to see all of the tourists and how they reacted to their situations.

Pier 39, on the Embarcadero

As I hobbled back to the Caltrain station, I really though about how beautiful everything was.  They were doing some America's Cup preliminary bits and some of the boats were on the water, and it was loud and obnoxious.  Then, I had to pass AT&T Park, and they apparently had a game starting in a couple of hours, as people were making lines.

Using Caltrain to return to San Jose was not as easy.  The had little paper schedules on the walls, and there seemed to be a person in front of each of them.  I finally asked if my pass would work.  I ended up on a Baby Bullet, and it probably reduced the travel time by 30 minutes by not stopping everywhere along the line.

I was never so glad to find my way back to a motel.  I took some ibuprofen and went to lie down.  After a couple of hours sleep, I wanted something to eat.  There was a McDonald's next to the motel, but gaaaah, why eat at a place I didn't like just for convenience?  I looked at Yelp again, and didn't find much there, but the airport, which I didn't know was close.

I ended up driving around the old neighborhood, as I'd seen several places.  I suddenly saw Tacos Autlense and went there, instead of a safer choice like Carl's Jr. or Jack in the Box.  I really didn't know what to expect but I ordered steak tacos, sat down, and when they came to me, I couldn't help but to smile.

When I started eating them, I thought that my adoptive mum must have learned to make tacos from the same person who started the business.  It was like being at home with fresh, fried corn tortillas, just warm, and the meat and lettuce and onions and tomatoes--OMG--it was the best.  It was also a great way to end that day.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Panasonic GX7 vs Olympus E-P5 vs E-M5

I believe most everyone interested in cameras has seen the announcement of the Panasonic DMC-GX7.

Regardless of your current equipment, you should find it an interesting camera body.

Highlights for me:
  • 1/8000th of a second shutter speed
  • Tilting electronic viewfinder (EVF)
  • 2 axis in-body image stabilization
That doesn't seem like a lot, does it?  Those are three items that my current (Panasonic GH3) equipment doesn't have.  There are various vertical viewfinder attachments for optical viewfinders and the Olympus VF-4 and VF-2 tilt, but having such a device attached is brilliant.

In the old days of medium format, they used a vertical viewfinder with the upside down image and all and that was more fun than you could imagine.  Somewhere along the line (the Mamiya 645 1000S, perhaps?), an eye level viewfinder was added.

Not all your subjects will be at your height and getting a good angle is usually critical to the success of the photo.  Of course, if you're not as tall as your subject, tilting the viewfinder up won't help you much.

Having the flipping (no expletive!) display panel on the rear helps greatly, so in bright light and macro settings, a 2.7+ million dot/pixel/whatever viewfinder will help.

Given that Voigtländer and others have already presented f/0.95 maximum aperture lenses, using them in bright light without a quick shutter speed has limited their Depth of Field advantage.  Olympus recently added a 1/8000th of a second minimum (not maximum--it's quick, not slow!) shutter speed, it seems right that Panasonic should do the same.  That leaves the Olympus E-M5 and the Panasonic GH3 out of luck, behind the times--oh, no!!

Considering that most micro Four-Thirds lenses from Panasonic and Olympus have small maximum apertures, it wasn't really a problem, but Panasonic revealed that the (Panasonic/Leica) 42.5mm f/1.2 lens is on its way--at an undisclosed time and price.  Add that to the Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4, and you have more need for the 1/8000th of a second shutter speed.  I have frequently used such a shutter speed with the Four-Thirds version of the Leica/Panasonic f/1.4 lens.  (If you're tried the Four-Thirds Leica lenses, you know why I make the distinction.)

My GH3 is feeling a bit anemic these days with all these enhancements in the world but it still works as well as it did when I first got it.  Obviously, for stills, it wasn't the greatest choice, but for overall handling, it's the best.  I never could have handled the E-M5 as well and got work done quite so easily.  Similarly, the E-P5 and the GX7 will be great tools, but not for me.  Even when I'm casually shooting, I have a big camera body and big lens.  I sometimes hang the GH3 around my neck to get a different angle on things, but for fast sports, it's not great, and for casual stuff, it's overkill.

I think people will love the GX7, as much as other people love the E-P5 but they'll adore not forgetting their clip-on EVF.

How does this all change with the E-M1?  It doesn't change much since the E-M1 and the GH3 are more the opponents.  Still, the 1/8000th of a second shutter speed will help with those Voitgländer lenses and the GH3 doesn't have it (and that Mamiya 645 1000S added 1/1000th like the 135 format SLRs of the 1970s).  The GX7 likely has better video than the E-M1, which doesn't even seem to consider PAL 25/50 timing.