Archive for August, 2008

Camera one of two

August 31, 2008 4 comments

A while back I asked readers for suggestions on what camera to buy.  And several very thoughtful suggestions were made, some for cameras I had not considered.  I carefully checked out each one, and many thanks to everyone who shared suggestions!

When I used to shoot film, I had several cameras to meet different purposes.  I had an Olympus XA, a tiny 35mm rangefinder with an outstanding lens that I could carry with me everywhere.  I had several Olympus SLR’s and lenses (all fast primes) to handle a wide range of situations from flat-field macro to portraits.  I’ve owned a couple different 6×6 TLR cameras for when I needed waist-level viewfinder. 

Over the years I’ve done a lot of different kinds of photography.  Long ago I did wedding photography but after several weddings decided it was just too stressful.  The kinds I really enjoyed included portrait, product, documentary, candid street photography, scenic, macro, and for want of a better term, ‘fine-art’.  Each has its own (often overlapping) technical requirements.

Eventually it became impossible for me to spend time in the darkroom, and I went all-digital.  But no single digital camera can do everything.  So it’s a foregone conclusion that I’ll need more than one camera.  My friend Pete has an Olympus DSLR and the image quality is simply outstanding.  But I pretty much live on a bike and his camera is too large for my backpack.  Also, I really like a waist-level viewfinder for macro and candid photography.

A couple readers suggested the Canon S5 IS, which I had not heard of, and that’s what I wound up getting.  It has a 12x zoom, image stabilizer, excellent macro capability, face recognition, and a folding viewfinder that allows waist-level photography (Joy!). It also has an internal eye-level viewfinder.  Plus, like any modern digital camera, a million other features which may be occasionally useful but hardly essential.  I will wind up using the panorama effect a lot…

And I’m delighted to find that the flash never goes off by itself – you have to specifically turn it on.  (Well over 99% of my photography is available-light; flash is a giant distraction to me)

It fits neatly in my backpack, runs on NiMH AA batteries (I have an ample supply), and image quality is well within the range that I need.  It handles complex lighting situations very well.  (I like Olympus’ image processor better than Canon’s but it isn’t a huge deal.) And did I mention I love the folding viewfinder?

Downsides: at extreme zoom + extreme high contrast scenes, there’s 2 or 3 pixels of purple fringing in white areas.  It doesn’t affect most shots.  I would have liked RAW capability.  And the lens cap was worthless; I got an old 59mm Vivitar slip-on lens cap off eBay instead.  The handgrip could be more ‘grippy’ but I’ll soon fix that.  As with all my hand-held cameras, I use a wrist strap instead of a neck strap.  (Vestige of my old camera-repair days.  Saw too many cameras destroyed by mishaps with neck straps.)

After two weeks I’m very happy with the Canon S5 IS and thanks again for the suggestion.  It will do 90% of the photography that I want it to do.  For my other camera I need extremely high image quality similar to my friend’s DSLR.  But it still has to fit in my backpack, and I’m not in a hurry.

While shopping I overheard a lot of other people shopping for cameras, and I can understand why camera companies are fixated on megapixels.  It is a simple number that consumers think is important, and trying to educate consumers is risky for a manufacturer.  “Ohh, this one has 12 micropixels!”  Bleah.

Folks, worrying about how many megapixels your camera has is like worrying about the top speed of your minivan.  Once you get past about 5mpx, there are other things that have much more tangible effect on visible image quality.  Like keeping .jpg compression to a minimum, and controlling ‘noise’ in black areas of your picture.  Both of these are degraded by cramming too many mpx onto a CCD chip. 

I took a good long look at the Canon G9, and liked it.  WeeDram suggested I also wait and take a look at this Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3K, which should begin shipping in mid-September.  Using the new mini-4/3 chip, Panasonic made the deliberate decision to put fewer megapixels on the CCD chip, so they could have better sensitivity and less noise.  This will have a huge (positive) effect on image quality and it’s very exciting to see a camera company buck the trend.  So I will definitely be checking it out.

Categories: Geeky, Photography

Gustav looks really bad - UPDATE

August 30, 2008 4 comments

Update: it probably did a lot of damage but nothing like what they were worried about.  Expect to hear a lot of second-guessing about the evacuation orders.  Hopefully now the RNC can get on with the important business of making Sarah Palin come across as a better Veep choice than Joe Biden.

Original post: I don’t know how accurate these predictions are but three days out, they’re saying Gustav is headed straight for New Orleans.  Any chance it will just get to the middle of the Gulf, decide it likes the view and stay there and not hit land?

Mayor Nagin, whatever his shortcomings, can apparently read the writing on the wall.  He says everybody in New Orleans had better hit the road before Gustav shows up.  Even emergency personnel – if you’re dumb enough to stay, you are on your own.

Except, according to the BBC, fewer than 50 city employees will remain.  What could possibly be important enough to require somebody to hang around while the city gets hit by a Cat 5 hurricane?  And what could they possibly do, except not die, if they’re lucky?  Seriously, I want to know.


  • Might hit 2am Monday, a cat4

  • Cajun updates the preparations that his company (think energy infrastructure) are making.  This makes for very interesting reading when you consider the amount of industry in the Gulf.  And in his updates #2 he discusses the difficult logic of evacuation.  In Sunday Evening update #6 he says the storm has veered West and will hit a marshland area “containing mostly frogsh*t and seeweed”, but also a lot of oil infrastructure that was “built with hurricanes in mind”.  But power will probably be out for a week so “expect a bump a bump at the pump”.


McCain picks Sarah Palin as veep

August 29, 2008 8 comments

I’m genuinely worried by McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as Veep, and I’ll tell you why in a minute.  But most of the reactions to this choice seem more confident:

Sarah Palin’s story doesn’t seem too complicated.  She’s a former beauty queen (remember our current decider-in-chief is a former cheerleader).  She has a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.  She was mayor of a small town for a while, and has been governor of Alaska for two years.  She’s anti-choice, anti-gay, and a young-Earth Creationist.  And she isn’t difficult to look at, although one of my friends heard her speak and said listening to her is another matter; apparently her rhetorical skills rival those of McCain.

I’ve noticed this about the right wing – they’re really into identity politics.  If you are black, then any black man at all should have your vote.  How else explain the raving lunatic they ran against Barack Obama for Illinois Senator?  And now it appears that they think anyone with private plumbing similar to Palin’s will march right in and vote for her, disappointed Hillary supporters included.  It’s an insulting way to look at voters, and hopefully also an untrue one.

On the one hand, we have Obama.  This is a guy who started from poverty and wound up as first black president of the Harvard Law Review.  Unlike certain plutocrat politicians, he has lived in dangerous neighborhoods, and had to sweat (both metaphorically and literally) to pay the bills.  He married – and stayed married to – an equally tough and smart woman who is an inspiration to work hard and win the day.  Even the conservative magazine The Economist likes him, and calls him a ‘meritocrat’.  And Biden!  massive amounts of experience and one tough cookie.  By any measure, that’s a solid ticket.

On the other hand, we have McCain.  He’s 4th generation military royalty and a celebrity in his own right.  His years as a POW in Vietnam were until recently (that is, until he took to mentioning them to explain everything about himself) an asset.  He met the wealthy, beautiful, 17-years-younger woman to whom he is now married, while vacationing in Hawaii as his previous wife recovered from an auto accident.  His campaign has been one misstep after another.  For all his talk of foreign policy expertise, he makes very basic geography mistakes.  He has a tenuous grasp of economics and an explosive temper.  He has voted 95% of the time with an administration that has turned everything it touched to garbage.  And now he has chosen a clearly unqualified person for a running mate.  By any measure, a shaky ticket.

So why would I be worried about his choice of veep?  Shouldn’t I be rejoicing?  Probably not, for the reasons mentioned above.  And The New Republic is right – it is an ‘astonishingly arrogant’ pick.  It’s almost as if he knows the results of the election before it happens.  And before you start measuring me for a tinfoil hat, consider this: there are one hell of a lot of Diebold machines out there. 


  • Palin is not exactly on the side of the angels on environmental, health, and energy issues.

  • Her first lie as VP pick.  Yep, Alaska – the rugged individualist state, as long as massive federal dollars keep flowing in.
  • And do I even need to mention she’s an AGW* denier? Not exactly a shock given her affection for the oil industry.  This link is full of interesting stuff, including “You’re an Alaskan, and energy costs are too high?  Here’s $1,200 to help, courtesy Sarah Palin.”
  • But at least she’ll ‘shake up the status quo’, right?  Not really so much.
  • McCain is offering an important salve to Battered Base Syndrome.
  • All the important stuff about her… may not matter:
    Does she have disadvantages, like lack of experience? Absolutely. Do those disadvantages outweigh the above? Not a chance. We have to face the facts: everyone who cares about issues and qualifications has already made up their minds one way or another. VP picks are about pulling in the rest, and Palin will do that in spades.


  • Could a college sophomore be responsible for her nomination?  Just in case anyone doubts the importance of web leverage.
  • Could Karl Rove, of all people, have the best explanation for why Palin is a good political choice at the expense of being bad for America?

*(Anthropogenic Global Warming)

Categories: Politics

A couple thoughts about the race

August 27, 2008 6 comments

HuffPost: If You Really Want to Understand What This Race is About, Look at the Two Candidates’ Fathers

How dare that elitist Obama have a poor and troubled upbringing, and lord it over the humble and not-at-all psychologically damaged McCain?

Slate: If Obama Loses… Racism is the only reason McCain might beat him.

What’s it take to swing a close election; two, three percent?  There’s way more than that who wouldn’t vote for Obama (or any other black man) if he were Jesus Christ carrying the cure for the common cold in a suitcase full of diamonds.

Categories: Politics

Sound familiar?

August 26, 2008 1 comment

Link if embedded video doesn’t work

Categories: Politics

Man, that was weird

August 25, 2008 5 comments

I just tried to log into a secured system, and my keyboard suddenly took an unscheduled vacation.  Only an occasional keystroke would ‘take’ and then it would produce the wrong character.  I restarted several times, with different keyboards, and couldn’t even enter my system login, or even get into BIOS setup on POST.  Then, it started working again.

Takeaway lesson: I have way too many keyboards lying around.  I still don’t know what the hell happened with the keyboard.

On an unrelated note (several thousand notes, actually) the awesome big-band jazz number that accompanies the extended credits sequence on the DVD Incredibles makes great cardio workout music.  Or, music to get speeding tickets by, if you prefer.

Categories: Geeky, hardware

I guess it figures

August 25, 2008 6 comments

At the grocery store today (the first day of clases), I noticed one category of item that was completely sold out: generic dish soap.  It makes sense if you think about it.

Categories: Uncategorized

Charcoal and topsoil loss

August 24, 2008 6 comments

When I read stories like “Where Food Begins” I want to add National Geographic to the president’s reading list. Because, his one-page “intelligence briefings” just aren’t doing the job.  Here’s a real, tangible threat to national and global security – one we can do something about for very little money (but which the free market won’t fix) – so you’d think that “conservatives” would want to do something about it.

Turns out, the ancient Amazonians knew how to do something about it.  They systematically buried pottery and charcoal in their fields over a two thousand year period.  Weird, but get this – the result was rich soil six feet deep instead of 8 inches like the rest of the Amazon basin.  And if we did something similar in our mechanized fields, we could lock up enough carbon in the soil to offset a huge chunk of our carbon dioxide output in the bargain. 

See also:

Let’s keep an eye on this come election day

August 23, 2008 3 comments

Big surprise, Diebold admits their election machines might drop votes.  But the flaw “probably didn’t ruin any elections”.  (Does anyone else remember the former CEO of Diebold, also chairman of the Indiana Republican Party, vowing to “do whatever it takes to make sure George W. Bush wins Indiana”?  Or that Diebold, now “Premier Election Solutions”, is a major Republican donor?)

Election: it isn’t rocket surgery.  You mark your vote on a piece of paper.  Keep them safe, with people from both sides watching.  Then they’re counted, with people from both sides watching.  Tally the results.  Winner drinks champagne from a glass, loser from bottle.

Categories: Politics

First look: Ubuntu 8.04

August 23, 2008 3 comments

Previously I’d been using Xubuntu because Ubuntu didn’t seem to work very well for me.  But though it was amazingly fast, Xubuntu had problems.  Yesterday I downloaded Ubuntu 8.04 and installed it on my home machine.  After switching off the fancy gingerbread and trying it, I have a few observations below the fold.

Short version:  this one is a keeper.  If Microsoft could keep up steady improvement like this, they would be a celebrated global treasure instead of the icon of junk software that they are.  But they can’t, so here we are using Ubuntu.  And so far very favorably impressed.

The good:

  • Seems to patch itself to stable versions.  Much appreciated.

  • A seriously nice interface. Just about as fast as Xubuntu when you switch off the gingerbread features.  (Do you get the idea I really don’t care about transparent title bars and rotating cube screen switchers?
  • Install takes about 40 minutes including applications and patching.  Contrast that with 4 hours to get a Windows build anywhere near ready to use at all.
  • It detected my scanner instantly, and the Xsane scanning utility is the best one I’ve seen (as measured in the fine control it gives the user).
  • Drawing masks in Gimp is much more precise – and easier – than in Photoshop
  • OpenOffice is much more straightforward in use than Microsoft Office.
  • So far I have not had any of the ‘FlashCrash’ problems that plagued my Xubuntu installation, and even using Adobe’s Flash player plugin.  (I hate the Adobe corporation even more than Microsoft)
  • Very easy to burn CD’s.
  • Very grateful for restricted drivers’ option, since proprietary companies dont’ seem to want to cooperate fully.  This unit is running on a restricted Nvidia driver, and Broadcom network wireless chipsets can now be used without an NDIS envelope.
  • Super-easy to patch the machine.

The bad:

  • It’s annoying to have to use restricted drivers. C’mon, chipset manufacturers, what are you afraid of? (I’m guessing they are violating their competitors’ patents and don’t want anyone to know)

  • Suspend worked perfectly in Xubuntu, but hangs in Ubuntu.  At least on this machine.  Until I figure it out.
  • Windows hotkeys don’t seem to be working.  Maybe there’s a way to enable them.

The Ugly:

  • Monitor detection is very spotty in Ubuntu; it finds a “generic monitor” and you can’t get past 1024×768.  This is a fairly big problem.

I’ll have more to say after using it for a while.

Categories: Geeky, Software