Last night took my mother to see the Knicks vs Nets game at Continental Arena for her birthday. Got pretty good seats (8 rows back from the floor) for a cheap (relatively speaking) price since one team almost no one cares about and the other team sucks in a big way. But they're both amongst my mom's favorite teams so double points for me. ;-)
Anyway, it was interesting to see first-hand the defensive inability of the Knicks. I've heard about it all season but man they couldn't D anything last night. At the half the Nets' 3-point shooting was 60 freaking %. And the majority of those were wide open looks. It was ridiculous. On the Nets side, Vince Carter put on a show last night. Quite a phenomenal athlete and an exciting player to watch.
The Nets pretty much blew the game open in the middle of the second quarter, building and maintaining a 21 point lead until they started sitting their starters with about 8 minutes left in the final quarter. Once they did that though, the bench players stunk it up REAL bad. The entire last 7 minutes of the game the Nets bench scored 5 points total. 2 of them coming from free throws. Good lord that was a pathetic display. Not that the Knicks did much better against the Nets bench but they did cut the lead down to 13 at the final buzzer. But I feel bad for Larry Brown. I'm not sure what it is but the Knicks just don't seem to understand how to play good defense which is surprising since Brown's the coach.
Anyway, I made do with a 50mm f/1.4 lens throughout the game which turned out to be a bit shorter than ideal but I didn't think security was going to let me through with the 70-200IS. Plus I actually fit the camera body and lens in separate pockets of my jacket. The security person who patted me down felt the camera but all he asked was if it was a bottle (no outside beverages!) and that was it. Didn't even ask me to take it out. Maybe I should get the 85mm f/1.8 or 135 f/2 after all. ;-p
Took the majority of the action shots using shutter priority set at 1/125s and later 1/160s. At that speed the lens was wide open at 1.4 constantly so getting a well-focused shot was a bit of a pain as any slight discrepency meant a shot that was focused where I didn't want. But managed to come away with some decent shots (with some extra help from Photoshop ;-). But the 50mm never fails to impress me. 100% crops of some of the pics revealed quite detailed shots of the people on the other side of the floor. Too bad I'll be selling it off in a little while.
This past weekend had some pretty nice weather, ideal for being outside and doing some photography. So that's what I did. Erin's friend was in town so we hit a few tourist spots. I brought along my Tokina 12-24 and Sigma 24-70. The Sigma I hadn't used in quite some time so thought I'd dust it off a bit and refresh my memory on what it was capable of. I wasn't disappointed. Both lenses are capable of putting out some wonderfully sharp and colorful photos. Then again it was a bright, sunny day so it wasn't as if we were stretching the limits of the lenses or anything. Good pics nonetheless.
Just got my Canon 35mm f/1.4 lens back from the Canon Service Center here in Jamesburg, NJ and I'm sooooo psyched! They done fixed this baby up good! =) I had sent it in cause I noticed a larger than normal gap between the rear lens and the mount and they were able to fix it under the repair warranty since I had sent it in 3 months ago to fix a squeaky focus ring. And it came back lookin' great! Now it's pretty much brand spankin' new. So glad to have this lens back. ^o^
After looking at the lens mount after the fix, man, there's a HUGE difference before and after. This is what it looked like before the fix:
And this is what it looks like after:
If you look at the before picture, I had basically sent it in to get the areas circled in blue (melted, bubbly spot) and red (big gap) fixed. What I got back not only fixed those 2 areas but it also looks like the lens itself should have been mounted like a quarter of an inch further up the barrel to begin with! Makes me wonder how the heck I was shooting with no problems before. But anyway, I'm just glad it's back. =)
Erin came into the city this evening to catch dinner down at one of our favorite standbys, the matter-of-factly named "Excellent Pork Chop House" on Doyers. It's a bit of a farther walk to get to from the subway stations but the good food and prices are tough to beat.
The main reason that we frequent it as much as we do is because it's the only place we know of that serves the Din Tai Fung style chicken soup that we just absolutely love. Excellent Pork Chop House has the soup in chicken and spare rib form and both are pretty good. They taste pretty much the same except one has chicken and the other has spare ribs. A bit more oily than the Din Tai Fung version but still tastes good.
My usual fare is their Braised Chicken/Spare Rib Soup with Vegetable Rice combo. Oddly enough, and a warning to vegetarians, their "Vegetable Rice" has meat (pork bits specifically) in it. Basically it's lettuce, some sort of pickled veggie, and pork meat sauce over rice. It's the same rice you get if you order their rice dishes (e.g. Pork Chop/Chicken Leg over Rice). I usually order the combo and get a pork chop on the side. I think it's slightly cheaper that way (instead of getting a Pork Chop over Rice and the soup separately) but I may be mistaken. This time around the waitress made it even more slightly cheaper for us by charging us beef noodle soup w/beef price for Erin's beef noodle soup (no beef) and swapping out her beef for my pork chop.
When the name of your restaurant is "Excellent Pork Chop House", your pork chop should live up to the hype. There's no disappointment in that regard here. Their pork chop is seasoned and salted well and fried to perfection. Nice, tender and juicy. The Vietnamese style grilled pork chop is still my favorite way to season a pork chop but this is a pretty close second.
The only dish that I don't like here is their wonton noodle soup. Not that great. Had it once, never again.
Typically a trip to Chinatown with Erin usually involves me winding up as a pack mule as she stocks up on fruits from the roadside vendors. We didn't get any lychee this time around (she prefers to buy them still stuck on the branches instead of individually like in the above pic) and was more in the mood for guava anyway. But the prices they charge for guava here in the US is highway robbery. $4 per pound. In Taiwan you can get like half a dozen for $1 or something ridiculous like that.
I had the Tokina 12-24 lens on hand during this outing and got some interesting shooting from the hip type shots on the way home.
Motion blur's fun every now and then. =)
Yesterday we took a trip to visit what I thought was the New Jersey State Aquarium in Camden, NJ. It had apparently been renamed Adventure Aquarium for some reason. Wasn't until I was doing some research for this entry when I read that it had been going downhill for some years now before shutting down near the end of 2004 and then reopening last year under private management. But apparently the new and improved aquarium is much better than the old so I guess we picked a good time to go.
Braved the midafternoon heat today to sit out in my parent's backyard for a little bit to see if I could catch some wildlife with my 70-200IS lens + 1.4x extender. The animals were smarter than I apparently as all I could see was a robin, a blackbird, and a chipmunk.
This fella actually landed about 20 feet or so away from me which was surprising. Usually the birds will take off at the first sign of movement but I guess this one had seen me sitting there for awhile so didn't think I was dangerous. Plus I guess landing that worm didn't hurt either.
I haven't seen a chipmunk in quite awhile at my parent's place so I was glad to see this one. Good to see that our chipmunk family apparently has been doing quite well in the past 20 some odd years. I had originally spotted him climbing up this wall while I was sitting down on the patio so I was surprised to see him still in the area when I walked back towards the wall. He sat there snacking on something for a while and staring at me about 15 feet away.
After he was done eating he scampered off to find more goodies I guess. But not before taking another glance back at me to make sure I wasn't about to hunt him down.
Above pictures were processed in PS2, auto-leveled, contrasted, and colored if I felt it looked better, and sharpened up one notch. For those photo buffs you can see 100% crops (non-sharpened) of the critters here:Robin
Spent a few hours at the Jersey Shore today. Ventured out with my 10-22mm w/Circular Polarizer and 70-200IS w/1.4x Extender. There were 3 novice surfers playing around, no comparison to the guys we saw on the North Shore of Oahu. Tough to surf when the waves are miniscule. Click on the pic above for the small picture gallery.
My mother told us about a family of cats that suddenly showed up in her backyard and lo and behold, I caught sight of them late in the afternoon.
I first saw the mother chilling out on the ledge. She would look at me whenever she heard my shutter go off. Just your typical gray tabby. Not sure if she was abandoned but I do remember we had cat sightings going a decade or so back so maybe there is a family of wild cats roaming our neighborhood.
After a little while the mother jumped off the ledge and headed off towards our neighbors yard. Then this kitten appeared from the other side of the ledge. S/he immediately jumped back down after catching sight of me when I took this shot.
Intrigued, my mother and I took a closer look at our wall back there to see where this family was staying and discovered that there were 2 holes in the back side of the wall where they were hiding out in. Just 2 kittens and their mom. So I camped out on top of the wall a good distance away to see if I could get some shots. This kitten would stick his head out and then duck back in when he caught site of me.
Eventually I moved to a closer position that gave me a clear shot of their hideaway. The two holes seemed to be connected in the back. But it's definitely a good hideout for them as you wouldn't even suspect they were there unless you were looking for them.
The two siblings would take turns peeking out. They knew I was still there and didn't seem to be overly afraid but wouldn't come out while I was there.
With the sun setting too quickly I took a last few shots and left them alone. Hopefully we didn't scare the mother away and she'll come back for her kids. Wonder how long they'll stay here and what they're eating.
Just a quick snap of my current dSLR setup. It's pretty much complete. Maybe one final lens that I'd like (Canon 90mm TS-E) but it's more of a specialty lens that I can hold off on 'til much later. Anyway, starting from left to right:
• Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM
• Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM
• Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM
• Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM
• Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM
• Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM
Only things not pictured here are my monopod and tripod.
Anyhoo, been a bit tardy in blogging lately cause lots of crap going on (namely me being on a jury panel and my water heater flooding the hell out of everything) so will catch up on that stuff later.
At the request of Erin's cousin, we spent part of an afternoon checking out the Nintendo World store down by Rockefeller Center. I also figured we could make our first trip to the fabled 5th Avenue Apple Store since we were in the general vicinity.
Not exactly sure what this thing they were putting up at the eastern border of Rockefeller Center. But it sure was shiny.
Took us a little while to find the store because it's not in the central Rockefeller Center area, rather a block south on 48th. Upon entering the first section you come to is for Nintendo DS stuff.
I know there are some hardcore Nintendo fans out there but to pay $500 for one of these jewel-encrusted ones is even a bit too much for me. Then again, if it was a jewel-encrusted camera... no, even I wouldn't get it then. =p
The central area of the first floor was a pit encircled with and containing multiple DS units where you can try out a whole bunch of different games for it. Here I'm engrossed in a new release that I'm embarrassed to say is called Cooking Mama. In it, you uh, cook stuff. But it's a great example of the type of games Nintendo can come up with when you have a touchpad and stylus at your disposal. Erin thought it was hysterical and at $19.99 new, may be worth a pick up.
Prior to coming to the store, I had read that they were accepting pre-orders for the upcoming Nintendo Wii. I wasn't really planning on pre-ordering but I figured since I was there I might as well ask about it. According to this fella that I was talking to, they would be getting TONS of units. He specifically said that he had no idea where Engadget got the information that they only had 300 or so slots for preorders as he had not heard anything about it and had personally taken about 30 preorders that day before me. So I preordered one. The new control system looks interesting enough, the price was right, and I figured if they actually have a shortage of them in the beginning (although I kinda doubt this), I could keep an eye out on eBay prices and sell it if it was high enough to be worthwhile. ;-)
Halfway up the stairs to the second floor the wall is taken up by this prominent logo. This pic is just to show Erin's cousin that we were actually there. ;-p
Stepping out of the elevator on the second floor you're met with this view. A whole bunch of giant displays arranged cylindrically. The displays are pretty unique too. Not just the typical plasma or LCD monitor. Not sure what the heck these things are, they just look like a really thin display sandwiched between 2 pieces of plastic. The displays themselves looked nice but glare was terrible.
The second floor of the store is mostly clothing and accessories but the Gamecube section is up here as well. Off to the side is the little area where you can try out some of the Gamecube games. Only 3 seats is not really enough but oh well.
Anyway, I'll post the Apple Store pics a bit later...
After leaving Nintendo World we continued onwards to the Fifth Avenue Apple Store. The location is quite nice, situated in an open plaza surrounded by benches, tables and chairs where visitors can take a break from either shopping the length of Fifth Ave or ambling around Central Park. Unfortunately, knowing this, the entire sidewalk in front of the cube is lined up nose to nose with hot dog/pretzel/shish-ka-bob/refreshment vendors which spew a pretty impressive amount of smoke into the air around the glass cube. Apple's cleaning costs must be freakin' astronomical.
Constant stream of visitors even at 5 in the afternoon on a Sunday. And as been reported previously, the glass elevator, while looking pretty cool, seems to be also rather temperamental as it was once again, not open for public use.
The spiral stairway was rather nice too. Entering the store itself revealed, well, a typical Apple Store. Clean and simply laid out, it was larger than what I was expecting. Only difference I noticed is that they seem to have a bigger bag selection here than in the other stores I've been to.
I really like the design of the stairway/elevator structure as well as the open space around it. Think they did a very nice job. Now if they could only make the elevator a bit more reliable...
I could probably stand down in the store and look upwards all day. Especially with a nice sky.
Overall it definitely is the most impressive looking Apple Store that I've seen. A good amount of security around although I think someone can still chuck a rock at the glass cube and take off without being caught if they were fast enough. But they probably have tons of security cameras pointed at the thing too. Anyway, definitely worth a visit if you're in the city; I'm sure it's probably more of a tourist attraction than a computer store.
This here is Reese, my parent's neighbor's lab. Whenever I visit my parents I'll usually take a bunch of pics of him if he happens to be out and about. Anyway, this one particular picture stunned me when I was going through my shots because of its unprocessed sharpness. The focus was dead on and it was spectacular. You can download the full-sized image here for a look-see. Converted from RAW without any post-processing. Damn, when this 300mm f/4 IS hits, it's one scary piece of glass.
I purchased the original Nintendo DS system when it was first released only to sell it a few months later to help pay for the subsequent Sony PSP system. It didn't help that back then there was only one game that I considered buying and even that one I wasn't particularly wedded to.
Now, almost 2 years later, I've jumped back on the bandwagon and picked up this Nintendo DS Lite - Onyx system. And talk about having to handle it with kid gloves, this thing's more of a fingerprint magnet than the black iPod and PSP! The highly reflective glossy black surface takes up the entire top and bottom casing. This is one item you'll want to store with a chamois cloth. =p Although I've found that the microfiber keyboard cover that comes with the Marware Protection Pack for MacBook works pretty darn well too.
At least the playing area doesn't have the same glossy characteristics. The D-pad was surprisingly not stiff upon first contact which was kinda weird cause you usually expect a few days breaking in period for those things. Despite its smaller size, I haven't found it to be too uncomfortable yet...
Compared to its older brother the DS Lite is definitely much more svelte, without the fat bottom look. The entire system is actually the same width as the top case of the original DS. Definitely takes care of my prior beef with the original DS in that there seemed to be too much open/unused space just lying around.
The one thing about the DS Lite that just absolutely crushes the old DS is the screen (or screens in this case). The original DS screens were rather dim and grainy which I thought was rather odd for a system released at the time. Especially when compared to the PSP that came out shortly afterwards, the DS screen was a joke. These new Lite systems fixes that problem completely. Not only are the screens brighter but they seem to be much more colorful as well. The Lite is what the DS system should have been to begin with 2 years ago when it comes to the hardware.
And the first thing I did after removing it from the box? Slap on screen protectors of course. I've been using these Brando Ultraclears for awhile now and they're highly recommended in my book. They make them for pretty much anything that has an LCD screen. They are a bit pricier than the ones you'll find at say Best Buy or whatnot and you have to wait longer for them since they ship from Hong Kong, but I've yet to see another brand that's as easy to use. These things are great!
Anyway, hopefully I'll hang on to this one longer than I did the original. I now have 3 games for it that I play on a regular basis, but only one that I would actually play in public. How sad is that. ;-p Somehow I feel uncomfortable playing a cooking game or calling to my imaginary dogs in public. Go figure. ;-p But, this thing won't be leaving the house until the hopefully spiffy case I just ordered for it comes in.
The news of my main hard drive death was partly mitigated that same evening by an email I received from Apple notifying me that my ordered MacBook Pro (MBP) was finally leaving the largest Commie nation in the world. A BTO unit with 15.4" glossy screen, 2.33Ghz Core 2 Duo Processor, 2GB RAM, DL-burning SuperDrive and hard drive bumped up to a 160GB 5400RPM job. I was pretty psyched to say the least.
I've generally had pretty good luck with shipping when it came to ordering from the online Apple store. Even though I pay just for regular shipping, my purchases arrive in what seems like FedEx 2-Day service. This time was no different. My MBP was picked up at 1:38 am on 10/30 and reached my front door at 8:57 am on 10/31. I was pretty stunned.
My mom's previous notebook, a Sony VGN-A130, gave up the ghost a few weeks back and I was tasked with either fixing it or just finding a new one for her. Since it was out of warranty and it wasn't the RAM or the HD that was causing the problem, having it sent back to Sony for repair would most likely have cost over $700. In light of that, I figured it made more sense to just get a new one.
For the price and specs that my mom had in mind, I decided on the Sony N series (VGN-N150P/B to be exact) which Gizmodo had done a brief writeup on, saying that it was Sony's stylistic ripoff of the MacBook. Maybe if you were half-blind and standing across the room from both units.
Obtaining the unit was a story in itself as I think the Nintendo World Store here in NYC did a pretty bad job of handling preorders. It all started the Thursday of the week that the Wii was to be launched. I called up the store to ask when they'd be open on Sunday (launch day) cause I figured I'd just saunter in, pick up my preorder, and be on my merry way. Was informed that they would be opening at 8am but after I mentioned that I had a preorder, the guy also said that they'd be open at 6am for preorders.
6am? Uh, ok. Never one to shrink from really early mornings when it comes to gadgets, I dutifully got up at 5:30am Sunday morning and putzed around till 6 before giving the store a call to confirm that they were actually open. And they were, so we zipped into Manhattan; probably the easiest commute into NYC I've ever had. At the corner of 48th and 6th, I see the line. Now the Nintendo World Store is located basically smack dab inbetween 5th and 6th Avenues. The line that I saw stretched from the front door west towards 6th Ave, and then north to 49th Street. It probably went farther than that but I couldn't see around that corner. No problem I thought, I preordered! This line was for the pinheads who weren't prescient enough to do so.
So I found a parking spot on 48th between 6th and 7th Ave and we walked to the front where I looked around for an employee or somebody to ask what the deal was with preorders. The store was open, and there were a couple of non-employees within so I assumed it'd be a quick affair. WRONG. The first guy I spoke to had just gotten his Wii and he told me that even with a preorder, you had to wait in line. Are you f**kin' kidding me?!?! Apparently every so often an employee would make his way down the line to pull out preorder people. The guy suggested I just hang around near a break in the line (parking garage entrance) but I didn't want to look like I was cutting. Especially since the people near the front probably had been waiting there since the prior afternoon. After confirming with a store employee that I did indeed have to wait in line, we decided to just go home. It was relatively cold that morning and Erin wasn't dressed for an extended outdoor stay. I figured I'd just come back the following day before work and pick it up then. But still, what the hell's the point of preordering if you still have to line up a day before? They should have at least had a separate line for preorders.
So not being able to get my Wii on launch day wasn't particularly critical but Nintendo World should have been better organized. If I had preordered at a local store like Gamestop, they would've just called me to let me know the unit had arrived and I could just show up and get it. No waiting in a two-mile line crap. Anyway, I arrived back at the store Monday morning at around 9:30 (they opened at 9), and while there was no line outside the store (yet), there were already two lines in the store, one leading up to the first floor cashiers, and the other winding up to the second floor cashiers. And again, they weren't differentiating between preorders and joe schmoe. Good thing I showed up when I did cause they actually locked the doors about 10 minutes after and restarted the line outside. Took me about another 30-40 minutes waiting to get to the front and pick up my Wii (along with another Wiimote, a classic controller, and Zelda) but at least it was finally over. The Wii, despite it's diminutive size, comes in a rather hefty package. Not sure what the hell they crammed into this thing but it's no featherweight. Plus it didn't help that the bag they were using had string handles that were waaaaay too long.
So, was it worth it?
With Erin down to her last week or so of pregnancy, we decided to take a trip into the city since it's supposedly good for the mother if she does a good amount of walking and/or stair climbing. Plus she had a hankering for Peking duck and we didn't know of a good restaurant in Jersey that had it. So away we went.
We typically walk from the World Trade Center to Chinatown and recently we've discovered somewhat of a shortcut through the city police headquarters building and courthouses. Outside one of the courthouses sits two pretty nice statues: one of a woman with a shield, and another of a woman with what I am assuming are rolls of laws.
They're pretty nicely done although not in a particularly prominent place, located on a non-entrance side of a building which is kinda strange.
So our first destination (since we had left home relatively late) was the Peking Duck House on Mott Street to grab some late lunch/early dinner. They've got some great duck and my family has been coming here since I was a wee lad. They weren't always in this location, originally a few buildings over and on the second floor and they weren't so classy looking either. But the duck has remained more or less the same. Unfortunately, they used to have great soup dumplings (siao lung bao) too but ever since they moved to their current location that hasn't been the case. Erin also likes taking home the duck carcass (you have to ask the waiter to wrap it up for you) and boiling it for an hour or two. Makes absolutely phenomenal soup. Just add soft tofu, cabbage and mushrooms. Great stuff.
Afterwards we headed up to Rockefeller Center cause I wanted to check out the downloadable demos at the Nintendo World Store (not as exciting as I had hoped; downloaded demos disappear once you turn off your DS). Realized that this probably wasn't the best of ideas since it was now Christmas season and the Rockefeller Christmas tree had just gone up last week. So, the entire area was packed to the brim with tourists and shoppers. Hell, the entire area between Times Square and Rockefeller was a nightmare.
The department store across 5th Ave from Rockefeller Plaza had these giant illuminated snowflakes on the entire facade of the building that would light up to music and stuff. I think they had a show every so often. This basically caused the entire section of 5th Ave between 48th and 49th Streets to be packed to the gills with people either staring at this building or trying to take a picture of the Christmas tree (the view from 5th Ave was the only way to see the star on top of the tree). I'm surprised we got out of that mass in one piece.
On the way up towards FAO Schwartz, thought I'd take a quick pic of the nice Atlas statue a block north of Rockefeller.
There was also a giant illuminated snowflake suspended above the intersection at 57th and 5th. First time I've seen that.
We don't usually go to FAO for the toys. We go for the lemonade and the candy. At least that's what Erin goes for. Here she is getting her gummy bears and sour patch strips.
And what's a trip to that corner of 5th Ave without stopping by at the Apple Store. Figured I needed to take a coupla more pics since I had lost all my previous ones to the wonderful hard drive crash that I had just recently suffered through.
This time the elevator was working so we took a ride. Pretty nice.
Still find the entire entrance to the Fifth Ave store to be quite impressive. It just looks great.
Just another shot of the circular stairway.
With a final look at the store from above, we headed back home. Erin had gotten enough exercise for the day. Come to think of it, this may possibly be our last weekend excursion to the city with just the two of us for a long time to come.
Erin decided to be induced if she missed her due date of 12/8. During the last few weeks of her pregnancy our doc had us go for two more ultrasounds because based on her fundal measurements, the baby seemed to be rather small for his age. But based on the ultrasound measurements, the baby was about 7 pounds, 14 ounces give or take 1 pound. If it was one pound more, the doc was then worried that the baby would be too big for Erin to push out in a natural childbirth so he suggested that we not wait too long to induce.
Continue for the gritty details...
This should come as a surprise to no one but the site that I will save to blackmail my son in his later years is now up at devoncheng.com.
Every so often while watching Devon do his thing, I keep being reminded of something I heard awhile ago about babies and children being more sensitive to the paranormal. After observing Devon for awhile now I can certainly understand why it would appear that way to some people. The tendency to stare around people and at seemingly blank white walls can be a bit peculiar if you think about it too much. But at this age it's just them getting comfortable with their new senses. Apparently I'm not the only one who's ever wondered about this as a quick Google search turned up this rather interesting forum thread.
He also shows an interesting fascination with the large glamour wedding photo of Erin and I that we have framed. He'll just stare at it intensely every single time we point him in its direction. He can be whining or crying but when we move his line of sight at that picture, he'll immediately stop whatever he's doing and just stare. I think it's cause it's pretty much entirely black and white (with Erin in a white wedding dress and me in a black tux) and newborns supposedly find black and white very interesting things to look at.
But anyway, I think he's already starting to consciously smile at his current age. Prior to now, I was never sure if his smile was just one of those things he randomly did or if he was actually happy/content. Actually I'm still not 100% sure now but he does seem to do it a bit more often than before.
When you grow up lil' guy, you're gonna have to pay good money for this type of treatment.
Anyway, if there's one silver lining to the dark cloud that is having a newborn that sleeps during the day and loves to keep you up at night, it's that you can take him out on afternoon excursions without a problem as he pretty much just sleeps through a good chunk of it. Letting mom and dad do whatever they need to get done. It's not that he doesn't sleep at all at night. It just feels that way.
Early this morning Erin had to go get her biometrics taken with the Department of Homeland Security so we got Devon all suited up for the outdoors. He wasn't particularly happy about that since this was his prime sleep time so he wasn't diggin' it when we started to cram him into another set of clothes.
Since the federal building was close to my office, we took my normal commute (bus to Journal Square, PATH to Christopher) which usually runs about an hour one way. Erin had him nestled in his Baby Bjorn carrier and he pretty much slept through the entire 3 hour trip. He made a little fuss when Erin was having her fingerprints taken but overall remained comatose. Erin though was really tired after all that. Guess Devon's really packing on the pounds.
I've long resisted the temptation to purchase headphones for use with my old 3rd gen iPod. Never much of an audiophile, I figured my ears wouldn't be able to tell much of a difference between a $100+ pair of headphones and the stock ones that come with the iPod. For the most part the iPod headphones worked fine for me. Only thing I noticed was that with loud background noise I couldn't hear much of anything with them. But when it comes to pricey headphones, you definitely don't know what you're missing until you actually use them.
This actually wasn't my first foray into in-ear headphones however. Awhile back I had purchased the Apple iPod In-Ear Headphones when they first came out. That was a mistake. Couldn't get the things to stay in my ear so I sold them off real quick. But in anticipation of a widescreen iPod late last year (that never came to fruition), I decided to take another look at the headphones that were available. Based on the review at iLounge, I decided to pick up a pair of Etymotic ER-6i Isolator Earphones.
Following in the steps of my first lens comparison post, I had the opportunity to test out 4 mid-range zooms recently: the venerable, battle-hardened Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L; its younger, lighter and longer-ranged sibling, the Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS; its wider, shorter-ranged non-L bastard stepson, the Canon 17-55 f/2.8 IS; and its cheaper, luck of the draw distant cousin, the Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 EX DG Macro.
This is by no means a lab-grade test. Just me with a tripod, a 30D, these 4 lenses, and some spare time on my hands away from the baby. And it's just a comparison of sharpness. Sharpness alone doesn't make a lens but as a personal preference, I like my lenses to be sharp right from the get-go. Plus these results only show the sharpness of the particular copies of the lenses that I had in possession. Quality control is a bit of an issue with lenses so as always, YMMV.
The Canon 24-70 is obviously the gorilla of the bunch, weighing in at a hefty 2.1 lbs. Followed by the Sigma 24-70 at 1.6 lbs, the Canon 24-105 at 1.5 lbs and the Canon 17-55 bringing up the rear at 1.4 lbs. Length-wise the Canon 24-70 is the longest of the bunch with the other 3 pretty much the same length. Build-wise, the Canon 24-70 and 24-105 of course rule the roost with their L quality construction. While the Sigma 24-70 and Canon 17-55 EF-S are more plastic-y, their still considerable heft doesn't make them feel much cheaper.
In another installment of my lens sharpness comparison series, I now pit the solid, renowned workhorse, the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS with its new younger and more svelte sibling, the Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS.
The 2.8 IS is big, heavy, and fast, weighing in at 3.2 lbs and 7.7" long while the 4 IS is significantly much smaller, lighter although a bit slower, weighing in at 1.7 lbs and 6.8" long. Diameter-wise, the 4 IS is smaller by 10mm which doesn't sound like much but when you see it in person it definitely is.
Word on the street is that the 4 IS is possibly the sharpest and best resolving zoom lens Canon has made to date. At half the weight of its 2.8 older brother and with a newer IS that's supposedly good for 4 extra stops of light, it almost makes the 2.8 obsolete. Or does it...
Devon turned two months old this past Monday. He's recently taken to licking at his right mitten for unknown reasons. Not sure if it's a sign of hunger cause he usually has other signs for that. I'm hoping it's not a sign that we need to get him a pacifier cause we're trying to steer clear from having to go that route. The evening before I was surprised to see him actually raise his upper body up on his two pudgy arms when I flipped him onto his stomach. But only for a second as he promptly toppled over and almost fell off the bed. Ah, kids...
So today we celebrated by braving the elements (snow overnight and driving sleet during the day) and taking him to the pediatrician to get his first battery of immunization shots. One oral and 4 needles. The doctor started off with the oral first which went fine since it was sweet. While Dev was still distracted from the new flavor in his mouth, he was then jabbed with 2 needles into his left thigh in quick succession. Apparently his reaction time still needs some development cause it wasn't until the second needle was withdrawn that he started to bawl his eyes out. Unfortunately for him there was still 2 more needles looking to embed themselves deep into his other thigh which the doctor proceeded to do quickly and efficiently. Needless to say, Dev wasn't thrilled by this sudden turn of events but to his credit, he didn't cry for too much longer after everything was done.
Anyway, he has another 2 months to go before his next meeting with 4 needles. At least he's been growing rather well, now weighing a little over 14 pounds and measuring a bit over 2 feet long. Apparently he's big for his age. I'm thinking with Erin trying to feed him every time he's awake has something to do with that. ;-)
This is pretty sick. 10 fps??? I'm having enough problems handling 5 fps on my 30D much less having to contend with 10. Geez. But it sounds like it's going to be one hell of a camera. My gadget lust is ragin' right now. For more details on this monstrosity, check out the white paper. I'm almost afraid to see what the 1Ds Mark III is going to be like.
On a side note, I'm kinda glad they didn't announce the 40D this time around, means I can stick with my 30D for awhile longer. =)
Almost forgotten with the 1D Mark III hoopla is this potential gem that Canon sprung on us on the same day. It's a 7.1 megapixel camera that also shoots widescreen high def (granted, only 720p) video and looks more like a camcorder than a camera. As opposed to the camcorders that look like camcorders and also takes really crappy still pictures. And it's just slightly bigger than their Powershot series of point & shoots. I think it's pretty ideal for a new mom who doesn't want to mess with the weight and intricacies of an SLR. Hint, hint. ;-)
Devon's a real bundle of joy. I would like to think for the most part he's a pretty happy kid. Baby requirements are generally pretty simple. The only problem of course is when one or more of these requirements suddenly need to be fulfilled at 4 in the morning.
Sometimes I wonder if Devon's really a cute baby or if I'm just under the influence of the "parent delusion" where every parent thinks their own child is the cutest, most beautiful baby in the world. Pre-Devon, my view on babies was exactly like this guy's. Erin or my mom would be looking at my cousin's kids and commenting on how they look like this or that while I'd just be, "Eh. It's a baby."
Normally we cover him up with a blanket when we put him in his bouncer but lately he's taken to kicking furiously when that happens so that the blanket slides off. All the while giggling happily. Apparently it's a big game to him. I'll keep covering him with the blanket and he'll just keep kicking it off with a smile on his face. It's funny as hell but I'm not going to be responsible if you catch a cold kid.
I'm not. But I take just a eensy teensy pride in putting together roughly half the furniture we purchased for our home. Basically anything made of wood was painstakingly pieced together by me with two screwdrivers: one battery operated, one hand operated. Granted, furniture has come a looong way if all it takes to put 'em together is a guy with a screwdriver but it still takes a good amount of mental and physical effort, especially when the parts come unlabeled or with baffling instructions.
The latest victim to fall to my meager skills is this 3-piece media center from CB2. I dedicated this weekend to getting rid of the 3 huge boxes taking up our dining room area since they weren't doing us much good unassembled. The middle section I had assembled two weekends ago but hadn't had the time to replace our existing stand with until now. I also took the time to organize, as best as I could, the ginormous mass of cables and wires that are the bane of entertainment systems everywhere. Basically a lot of twist and cable ties liberally applied.
Total time spent? Probably around 20 hours. My hands are chafed up and I'm sore all over, but I think it turned out pretty well. Got some more shelf space now to fill with stuff. ;-p The perfectionist in me desperately wants to shift the tv down to seated eye level but then my mind remembers the major ass-whuppin' that we took putting it up in the first place and says, "Eh, we can live with it."
This past weekend I decided it was a good time to give my old desktop a good scrubbing in anticipation of its upcoming delegation to our living room as our backup/data server. This particular unit I hand-built probably around 4 years ago and it's also been that long since I actually cleaned it. Erin's gone over the outside of the case a few times with a damp cloth but that's about it. So needless to say the task seemed a bit daunting when I disconnected it and brought it downstairs. Unfortunately I didn't think about taking any before pictures until after I had started the whole endeavor so you'll have to imagine what 4 years of caked-on dust and grime looks like.
The original plan was to take the computer out onto our balcony where I would used compressed air to blow out most of the dust. The computer had other plans...
Erin decided to spend her Sunday afternoon trying out a recipe for scallion buns that she found online. This was her very first attempt at baking anything so expectations weren't very high. She was pretty enthusiastic about it though and I got a very funny picture of her sitting on the floor in front of the oven staring in while the buns were baking which unfortunately I'm not allowed to show.
Truthfully they came out looking a lot better than I was expecting. Pretty edible looking I'd say. She wants to get a bigger pan so next time the buns aren't as squished together.
Why scallion buns? Cause we both like them. And the pictures in the recipe looked pretty good.
Edibility-wise, they actually turned out pretty good. Only knock on it was that the bread came out to be a bit denser than we're normally used to from the stuff we get at the Chinese bakeries. But very good for a first attempt.
The remaining test is to see how edible they remain after a day or two. Since she made a dozen what we didn't eat today will be our breakfast for the coming week. But so far, I give her and the buns a solid "B". ;-p
The following sequence was taken with Devon seated in my mom's lap. He was having a grand old time while my mom was fussing over him but then stopped smiling when it was time to take actual photos where my mom was looking at the camera as well. Silly kid.
Erin wanted to get out of the house so we headed into the city to get haircuts. Originally the plan was to just take Devon in his car seat/stroller combo but after thinking seriously about that for the past week I decided I must be freakin' insane since the entire contraption must weigh like 40 pounds. There was no way in hell we'd enjoy navigating the stairways of the city public transportation system with that thing.
So Thursday evening I hopped over to Babies 'R Us to pick up an umbrella stroller. I wasn't planning on getting one so soon but what the hell. This thing is pretty awesome and ideal for city travel. Relatively lightweight, relatively easy to collapse/deploy, and highly maneuverable. It worked pretty darn well during our outing today. It also has variable incline positions so that we can change the angle closer to vertical as Devon grows.
Devon's turning out to be a relatively easy baby to take out on afternoon excursions. He doesn't fuss much and is very quiet. The toughest part is finding secluded spots to breastfeed him while out in public. That is if he'll even feed. He seems to be pretty easily distracted so feeding him in public is always a pretty short endeavor as we figure it'd be easier to feed him once back in the car or at home. So he can go for pretty long stretches without food if we're outside. He'll complain a little but once the stroller starts moving he quiets down.
Finally spring-like weather is upon us here on the East Coast. Past winter has been a bit schizo. If it wasn't dead of winter cold it was beginning of summer hot. This recent chunk of days has stayed at a nice and cool 70 degrees although a bit wind at times.
Didn't realize spring was also the season for pine cones. Just never paid attention I guess. And didn't know they clustered like this on trees. And this was on a relatively small tree too.
Despite Apple's switch to Intel processors and the existence of programs like Parallels that has proven to be a big step up from the old Virtual PC days, I still prefer to keep an actual PC around for .NET development purposes and whatever else might pop up that I can't or don't want to handle on my MacBook Pro. With my ol' PC desktop getting a bit long in the tooth, it was time for an upgrade.
After spending a few weeks researching components with our IT guy at work, Phil, who was also in the mood to build a new system, I spec'ed out a unit that was as small, quiet and reasonably powerful as possible without breaking the bank. Small form factor (SFF) PCs have been around for a couple of years now but I've never paid much attention to them since they were generally underpowered and underequipped, a necessity because of their size (or lack thereof). But advances in computer technology marches on of course and with Intel's breakthrough in processors that run with less power and heat than the previous generation Pentium 4's, good SFFs are pretty viable now.
Those of you who pay attention will realize, wait a minute, you actually set up a BYO system with an Intel chip? *sigh* Unfortunately, yes. I used to be an AMD proponent and preferred the Athlon series over Pentium just because. David and Goliath type thing. Didn't hurt that the Athlon series was actually very good. Unfortunately, AMD hasn't been keeping up with the Joneses lately and they've got absolutely zip right now that can compete with Intel's Core 2 Duo line. If they had, I would have gone with them again. Unfortunately, in this case, pragmatism prevailed and I stepped over to the Dark Side.
What I eventually wound up with was a nice, sleek, compact and quiet desktop system that churns out more than enough power and performance for my current and future needs. I eventually wound up not building the system myself since Phil's a master at this kind of stuff and it was fun to watch him do his thing. He really knows how to layout a clean and relatively uncluttered interior. So the specs are:
I love all the Silverstone products. The case, power supply and heat sink makes an awesome low noise combination. Even though this setup only has 2 fewer fans than my old tower, they're more efficient and lower speed so comparing fan noise between the two is like night and day. The case comes with one intake and one outtake fan only. The intake one pulls double duty as it's actually attached to the hard drive cage so it draws in air from outside which then gets pushed over the drives. There's a hole for another output fan which I filled with an Arctic Cooling 80mm PWM fan which is practically silent. The last fan is actually the 120mm fan in the power supply. The thing that's most cool about the Silverstone combo is that because of the smaller amount of space you have inside, the CPU heatsink doesn't have it's own fan sitting on top like most do. Instead, when installed properly, the top of the heatsink sits right under the bottom of the power supply with just the tiniest gap inbetween. So the power supply's fan doubles as the heat sink fan. Very, very cool. Works awesome with a relatively low-power, low-heat processor like the 2.13Ghz C2D. Not sure how well it'd work with the top end C2D though.
The SST-PP03 short cable set was also invaluable in this case. The default cables that come with the power supply were meant for regular-sized ATX cases so in a MicroATX case like this is way, waaayy too long. The short cable set really help a lot in this case where interior space is in much shorter supply.
But with case fan noise pretty much at a minimum, the components that make the most noise are actually the Raptor hard drives. The crunching sounds they make while accessing/writing is pretty noticeable. Guess that's the price you pay for speed. Oh and I guess the optical drive is pretty loud when it's spun up to max speed. But that's rarely used so not a big issue.
We only ran into a few nigglin' issues while getting everything up and running. Took us awhile to get Vista to work since the P5B-VM DO motherboard is so new that the current BIOS didn't support it well. A later beta BIOS release fixed the issue but since it's beta, it has its own issues as well. But at least Vista is running. Not that I run it much anyway. Since Visual Studio 2003 doesn't work on it, I'm still running WinXP SP2 as my main OS. And the second ongoing issue is that the over-clocking capability of this motherboard seems to be pretty crappy. I've only been able to up my CPU to 2.27Ghz before the machine refuses to POST. There's something odd about that. Will definitely have to research it.
But overall I'm quite happy with this setup. My old desktop has now been relegated to pulling server/data storage duty and is sitting monitor-less next to my entertainment center in the living room. The high-speed fan noise doesn't bother me as much down there. And now our study is a much quieter and cooler place with this new unit. I'll try to keep this one cleaner on a more regular basis but no promises. ;-p
As for Phil, he wound up building his SFF around a Thermaltake case and with top of the line CPU and graphics card and eventually also turned to water-cooling. He's such a nut. ;-)
Recently got rid of my old Waterfield medium Cargo and Timbuk2 Commute bags to make room for larger replacements. First up is this medium Biz collection hybrid messenger/backpack from BumBakPaks. I had been eye'ing their bags for awhile now and finally decided to pull the trigger on one. Their claim to fame is their Bak2Pak carrying system that lets you convert quickly and easily between backpack and messenger modes. As a backpack, the bag itself also sits down on your lower back instead of starting near your shoulders which is supposed to help put less strain on your back. Since I'm not getting any younger unfortunately, I figured this would be ideal, even if it looks kinda funny.
The front of the bag is pretty nondescript with a zippered pocket, 2 plastic latches and their logo. Having a zippered pocket in the front flap is key for me; one of the reasons I got rid of the Timbuk2 Commute bag. There's also a handy carrying loop on top.
Next up is my new large Waterfield Cargo bag with Celeste Iridium trim and para-gliding buckle (instead of the previous aircraft buckle). I got rid of my previous medium sized Waterfield to make way for this one. The medium's main compartment was a tad too small for me. Once you had put your laptop in, there wasn't much room for anything else. This large version takes care of that problem. The bag material seems to be a bit stiffer than I remember but maybe that'll soften up with age.
What??? Mooooiiii..... with an iPhone??? Say it isn't so.... Yeah yeah, came as no surprise to anyone. Anyway, just throwing up some pics now, commentary later.
Ok so I'm a bit tardy with this one but better late than never as the saying goes. By this time I've carried both the BumBakPak Biz and Waterfield Cargo back and forth on my daily commute a bunch of times each so I've gotta a decent idea of what I like and don't like about them.
Physically, the two bags are pretty much equally large. I've fit two laptops plus my 5D+lens and other odds and ends in both bags with ease. Carrying such a load, on the other hand, is much easier with the BBP in backpack mode as you have the weight distributed across both shoulders. The Waterfield, even unloaded, feels like a heavier bag so once you start packing on the pounds your shoulder really feels it, even with the shoulder pad.
The Waterfield is a deeper bag though so if you had to, you can cram much thicker objects into its main compartment than you can the BBP. For the moment I think I currently favor the Waterfield because the exterior is just much cleaner and simpler overall. The BBP, because of its transformable nature, has too many dangling straps and D-rings and what not all over. However, the BBP in backpack mode is definitely the more comfortable bag, especially when dealing with heavier loads. I pretty much never carry the BBP in messenger bag mode as the strap isn't too comfortable for my uses. But I'll probably wind up alternating if not daily, at least weekly between the two. Unless something calls for a heavy load in which case the BBP will get the call every time.
A few years ago, for reasons lost in the ethers of time, I decided to get my first dSLR: a Canon Digital Rebel. Compulsive gadget collector that I am, that probably wasn't the best of ideas as it just started me down another road of expensive things to acquire and play around with. Between then and now, I've moved through the Rebel XT, Rebel XTi, 30D, and finally, the 5D. And that's just the camera bodies. Don't even get me started on lenses.
Suffice to say, my "everything but the kitchen sink" days of lens buying is behind me as I've tried to just keep what I believe I'll actually use. Currently that leaves me with 5. Ideally I wanted to cut down to 3 but eventually settled on 4 as being more realistic. So I still have to whittle away a bit.
As for the 5 that I currently have, starting from left to right in the photo above:
Walking to and from the bus stop in my community, there's a patch of grass along the way that sprouts mushrooms annually. Usually when the weather's been humid for a few days. I always found it rather interesting because the mushrooms will be different shapes and sizes and they only come up on that one patch of grass, nowhere else. And they typically won't last for more than a day. Wonder if they're edible. =)
Oh it's been quite an exciting week to be a photography geek to say the least. First Canon impresses with the prosumer 40D and new flagship 1Ds Mark III and then two days later, Nikon answers with their, quite frankly stunning D300 and their first full-frame dSLR, the D3.
For those unfamiliar with the SLR scene, the Canon/Nikon rivalry is photography's version of the PC/Mac war. That being said, one would assume that I'd be a Nikon user since as with the Mac, the Nikon user mantra is that Nikon bodies are just so much more "user-friendly" than Canon's. Sound familiar? However, I'm not a Nikon user obviously. Primarily because I've used Canon digital cameras ever since the Powershot S10 so when I transitioned over to dSLRs, I just stuck with them. And also I believe at the time I got my first Digital Rebel, Nikon really didn't have anything similar on their end. I have in the recent past mulled picking up a D80 and the Nikkor 18-200mm VR lens so I can dabble but it's just too cost prohibitive. Unlike the Mac/PC scuffle, you can't share accessories (lenses in this case) cross-platform. Well ok, if you want to be really picky, you can use Nikkor lenses on Canon bodies but it's just too much of a hassle.
Now when you look at Canon's lineup and then Nikon's, I don't know about other people but I don't really see much overlap and it almost seems like the 2 companies planned it this way. In my mind, this is how the bodies line up in terms of price and features (from lowest to highest):
Nikon D40x < Canon Rebel XTi < Nikon D80 < Canon 40D < Nikon D300 < Canon 5D < Canon 1DIII < Nikon D3 < Canon 1DsIII
These 2 companies are simply alternating their products. You'll notice there's a Nikon gap between the 5D and 1DIII because Nikon does not have a prosumer full-frame that matches the 5D just yet. So I'm not sure if direct comparisons (like D40x vs XTi vs D80 or 40D vs D300 or D80 vs 40D) really work. Actually the only comparison that makes sense from a price standpoint would be the D40x vs XTi which I'd hand to the XTi simply because of the measly 3 AF points on the D40x. But it's tough to compare bodies from the XTi to the D300 range because the price and feature differences are significant enough between each that it makes it unfair to the lower-priced body. Personally, if circumstances were different, I'd seriously consider the D300 as my one and only camera. However, now that I've already drank the full-frame Kool-Aid, I'll wait to see what Canon does with the 5D revision. Probably pick up the 40D as a backup body in the meantime. Truthfully though, in this day and age, any body you get at that price range is going to be pretty kick ass. If you're completely new to SLRs, whether Canon or Nikon bodies are more "user-friendly" is inconsequential because you'll be learning everything from scratch anyway. And once you get used to one way, obviously the other way's going to feel not as friendly to you. You may also want to actually physically handle the ones you're interested in at a store since it's hard to determine the fit of the bodies to your own hands without actually feeling one personally. But just choose the one that you feel most comfortable with and that is closest to the max that you can afford (don't forget about the lenses cause they're definitely more important) and go out and take pictures! That's what you're getting it for, right?
So I've been puttering around with the new Canon 40D for the last week now and I've gotta say I'm quite impressed. The following two photos are resized crops taken with a Canon 50mm f/1.4, shot straight as JPEG, Standard Picture Style preset with no post-processing whatsoever.
And the following two are 100% crops of the full-sized JPEGs of the same photos:
Not too shabby.
I have yet to do an ISO 1600 and 3200 comparison between this and the 5D but from I've read on the photography sites, the 5D is still just a little bit better when it comes to low-light noise. Ergonomically the 40D grip and thumb groove are a tiny bit deeper but that tiny bit makes a pretty good impact as I feel like I get a firmer grip on the 40D. And Canon finally decided to show ISO on the top LCD at all times along with displaying it in the bottom strip of the viewfinder. You no longer have to hit the ISO button just to see what you're set at. It is a bit disconcerting to see all those modes on the mode dial (I think there's like 1 blank spot left on the thing) though.
So I'm still trying to decide what I'm going to do with this thing. Originally I bought it cause I thought it'd be nice to have two bodies. I figured I'd stick the Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS on the 1.6x crop 40D to get the extra range and then use the 5D for everything else. Then I thought well, maybe I can also use the 40D as a lighter vacation body where I can pair it with the Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 OS and Canon 35mm f/1.4. Only problem with that is that I don't own either of those lenses. =p
So ok, maybe I'll just stick with one body. But which one? I really like the AF for the 40D as it feels to me that all the outer points work better than the ones on the 5D since each point is high precision cross-type as opposed to being just high precision on the 5D. Although the 5D has those 6 additional points clustered around the middle that makes tracking moving targets more accurate, I don't currently take all that many photos of moving objects. The cross-types help more with low-light AF which I find myself doing more often. The new Highlight Tone Priority mode on the 40D also appears to work pretty well.
On the other hand, I really do like full frame. It's nice that the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 actually gives me a range spanning from decently wide to short telephoto. On a crop body like the 40D, the 24-70 would be all telephoto. I suppose it wouldn't be difficult to swap the 24-70 for a Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS but even that gives me an actual range of 27-88mm which is not as wide. Although from my experience the 17-55 IS is a much sharper lens.
On another hand, going back to a crop camera will stop me from constantly wondering whether or not it's a good idea to pick up the Canon 50mm f/1.2, backfocus issues and all, as I can just repurchase the Canon 35mm f/1.4 which I had absolutely loved but had to reluctantly give up because it was too wide on a full frame.
And the final advantage of possibly keeping the 40D and selling the 5D now is that Canon will most likely upgrade the 5D in 2008 and chances are high I would upgrade to that, especially if the AF points are upgraded as well as the addition of the now-standard dust cleaning mechanism. So I can still get a decent amount now for the 5D on the used market as opposed to having to try and sell it when the price tanks even more after the next 5D is announced.
But if I do swap back to a crop body, that means I'll have to flip my lenses as well which, while not overly difficult, can be time consuming. Maybe I'll just return the 40D and take my chances on the 50L. *sigh* Guess I'll do a couple of more tests in low light situations before making a final decision. Thanks to Amazon's super 30 day return policy I've got another few weeks to play around.
While Devon's bottom two teeth have already grown out, his top two are just coming in. So even at this age he still considers his mouth his primary exploratory sensory organ. While at Grandma's today he managed to get his hands on my lens cap and he just absolutely went to town with it.
We got him a dedicated teether/rattle a couple of months ago which saw infrequent use. It's not that he didn't like it; it just seemed like besides drooling like a madman, he wasn't particularly bothered much by his sprouting teeth. But he loved the lens cap. I guess it's cause it had all these ridges and a few different textured spots. But he'd munch on it sitting, then would sprawl out and munch, then back to sitting and munch, and then sprawl out again, etc.
At least he's finally chosen something of mine that I don't mind him mouthing. Prior acquisitions include my PSP, my console controllers, and my iPhone. Actually I don't really mind him salivating all over the aforementioned items except for my iPhone. That I'll usually take away from him once he starts edging it towards his mouth.
He's definitely using the cap as a teether though as I got it back with a bunch of new tiny nicks on the inner edges. Ah well, at least it's another weapon in our arsenal that I can pull out to keep him occupied when out and about. ;-p
Martinelli's produces the best apple juice I've ever had. Nectar of the gods material. If you're an apple juice fan, this is the Holy Grail. I've been drinking their juice sparingly for years, mainly because they were so damn hard to find in stores. So I was quite happy to see that I was slowly able to find them in more and more high-end supermarkets in NJ and bodegas in NYC. Until one day I found this abomination:
Why is it that when a beverage company finds themselves becoming more and more successful, they have to go ruin what used to be very cool glass containers and replace them with cheapo plastic ones? Same thing happened with POM and their pomegranate juice. When I first noticed them they were using these unique bulbous glass containers. Now that they're everywhere, it's still bulbous but now all plastic. Phooey. It's not like they're charging us significantly less now that they're using the cheap stuff. At least Martinelli's seems to still be giving their customers the choice of glass or plastic. =p
First time I've ever seen a company protect their cans in such fashion. Trés chic. ;-p
My workplace is dog-friendly hence the occasional doggy photo that will pop up here. This is one of my boss' toy poodles, Bella, whom he brought in one day because her usual doggy pal was recuperating at the vets from surgery. She's very tiny and very cute and apparently doesn't get any bigger than she is now. I normally don't like poodles but for her I'll make an exception. ;-)
On a different photo-related note, it's galleries like this that make me regret giving up my 35L. As far as I can tell he's a former Nikon shooter who switched to a Canon 5D and the "holy trinity" of Canon primes (along with a 24-105L) earlier this year. Not that it matters which system he's using since the photos are all pretty great. But he seems to favor the 35L and puts it to good use. Maybe I should reacquire one... Eh, who'm I kidding, it's not like I'm out shooting models for a living.
and to the point.
Not entirely correct but what the hey.
So I was wandering around the grocery section of Mitsuwa tonight when I saw this. I was all set to buy a pack of it (4 for $6) but Erin wouldn't let me because she didn't think we'd be able to finish them all off by tomorrow. Apparently they've been around for quite awhile as this guy tried one back in 2004 but this is the first I've heard of and seen it. At first I was all excited that some crazy company had actually genetically modified an apple to taste like a grape but apparently no such chicanery was involved. It's just Fuji apples soaked in grape juice for an extended period of time. I guess if I really wanted to I could just do that myself at home. =p
As anyone with kids will know, taking them on a plane trip can be quite the experience. Well, we figured if we were going to do it, we might as well do it big so Devon's first plane trip was a 17 hour flight across the world. And that's just counting the actual flight time. Door to door we were out a good 29 hours. We weren't quite prepared for the worst, but we weren't totally unprepared either. Thankfully, Devon passed this test with flying colors.
My biggest concern was what effect the changes in atmospheric pressure would have on his ears when the plane was taking off and landing. Apparently zero. Completely unfazed. Erin didn't have to breastfeed him during those times and he seemed more interested in watching the flight attendants scurry about doing their jobs and looking out the window during takeoffs and landings.
Things were made easier for us as he basically followed his regular sleeping schedule even in completely new surroundings. Since our flight took off around 10:30pm and then they gave us a meal once we hit cruising altitude, he got to sleep relatively late but then he was pretty much out till we refueled in Anchorage, Alaska. He slept a little bit then as well since the stopover was extended for an hour and then he slept a little more after the meal they gave us after taking off from Anchorage. So he was pretty much awake and a handful for about 6 hours. Which isn't so bad. We kept him occupied with toys that we had brought along and he had fun chatting with the old couple seated behind us. The worst part was trying to eat with him around as he'd want a taste as well or he'd dig through the food on the plate/bowl and chuck them into our laps. But overall, smooth sailing all the way. Hopefully it'll stay that way on the return flight home.
unless it's crustaceans. Not for the very, very soft-hearted.
I don't recall seeing these when I was working in Taiwan back in 2000 but I noticed them this trip. This one was taken on one of the outer walkways connecting the multiple buildings making up the large Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Hsinyi New Life Square complex across from the Warner Village. I noticed another one in a much older department store building located across from the main Xi Men Ting shopping area entrance so apparently this type of building evacuation has been around for some time now. Wonder how effective it is.
Seven. Seven long years I've waited for the chance to burn my intestinal linings with ma la delicacies once again. Nothing on the US East Coast can compare from what I've heard. This is from one of the 2 Kaohsiung branch stores of Old Sichuan, one of the 2 best ma la hotpot places in the city. Reservations required, you get an hour and a half to shovel as much eh... "dark tofu" and other hotpot goodies down your gullet.
The 5D still comes in as the low noise king here which isn't surprising since it's the only full frame sensor of the 3. In the non-darkish areas, the CMOS D300 isn't leaps and bounds better when compared to the CCD D80.
When comparing the Nikon's with high ISO noise reduction on and off, there's a noticeable difference between on and off but as far as I can tell, not that much of a difference between the different levels of noise reduction (low, normal, high).
The rubbery parts on the D300 feels more rubbery than the similar parts on the 5D and D80 but I like the grip on the 5D better overall because of the groove that it has for the middle finger.
While 51 AF points is probably overkill for most people (myself included), the horizontal coverage in the viewfinder is pretty awesome. Vertically it doesn't get as far up to the edges but still not bad. Makes the coverage on the 5D look very, very bad.
Higher resolution LCD on the back of the D300 really doesn't seem to make too much of a difference to me compared to the 5D's. I suppose if you pixelpeep on the camera itself the Nikon may show better detail while zoomed in but overall the LCD didn't blow me away. But it's always nice to have a larger LCD like the D300 has.
The shutter sound for the D300 is a bit different. Sounds almost like the old Konica-Minolta dSLRs but a bit chunkier. Very quick sound though. Even though I like the 5D shutter sound better, the D300's gets points for being very short.
There's no doubt the D300's a fine and capable camera but I think I can patiently wait for the 5D's successor to be announced come the end of January.
So at the end of my last post about earphones for the iPhone, I wished that Etymotic would just get off their hineys and make an iPhone-specific pair of earphones already. Last week, thanks to a certain someone, I was clued in to the answer to my prayers: the Etymotic hf2, announced and released during the MacWorld Expo. Given that Apple's announcements during the Expo weren't awe-inspiring enough to make me throw my wallet at Steve Jobs' feet, I ordered one (right in time too since they're currently out of stock).
And it arrived today so this will just be a brief post on my impressions of the audio quality between the hf2 and the previously reviewed ER-4p and V-Moda Vibe Duo. Between the hf2 and Vibe Duo, the Vibe Duo's bass production is far meatier and sounds more expansive but it overpowers the mids and highs to a noticeable degree. As expected from an Etymotic set, the hf2 has sparkling clear highs and mids and because of its ER-4p and not ER-6i pedigree, the bass is more than good enough (for me at least) but you don't feel it like with the Vibe Duo.
The usual caveat to getting that "good" bass with the Etymotics still apply. The earbuds need to be sealed pretty well in your ear canal. Oddly, even though the hf2 comes with a triple-flange rubber tip by default like the ER-4p, the widest flange seems just a bit smaller so that you need to really cram the thing into your ears to get a good seal. Something that I'm already pretty used to but others might find it a pain in the ass.
Between the hf2 and ER-4p, I think the ER-4p still sounds just the tiniest bit better but it's very close. I'll also be looking further into this later.
I'll comment some more after I kick the hf2 around for a few days but right now, I'm lovin' it. =)
My first shot ever taken with the 85mm f/1.2 II and attached EF 25 II Extension Tube. The idea of a f/1.2 macro-like lens was too tempting. And then I remembered why I had sold my old 100mm f/2.8 dedicated macro lens: you really need nerves of titanium and/or a monopod/tripod to do this stuff right. At this range and f-stop, any movement in any direction will ruin the shot.
Also tried to stick the extension tube onto my 35L. Practically unusable (unless I'm missing something) since it makes the minimum focus distance like less than an inch as far as I can tell.
In his currently short life, Devon likes the following: Mommy, wheels, balls, and cars. While at Toys 'R Us, he wasn't interested in the bikes and toy cars because he could get around faster, he just wanted to touch their wheels. Even while sitting in this car he was directing me to push him around to the other cars so he could touch their wheels. Bit of an odd one. ;-p
As noted earlier, I picked up one of the new Etymotic hf2 earphones a few weeks back and have been using it exclusively during my work commute since then. My initial review on the sound quality between the hf2 and the V-Moda Vibe Duo remains unchanged. Both of these newer earphones pretty much follow their respective company's line: Etymotic places more emphasis on clear and accurate mid and highs while V-Moda places more emphasis on pounding bass. Between Etymotic models, the hf2 and the ER-4p has very similar specifications and real life comparison draws pretty much the same conclusion. Although at the same volume level, the ER-4p sounds louder than the hf2.
As for non-sound quality issues, the Vibe Duo buds are smaller and overall easier to put in and take out. It feels like the Vibe Duo buds don't seal as well due to their smaller size so noise isolation is less but it does not affect sound quality in general. The ER-4p and hf2 buds, when compared next to each other don't seem to be that much different size-wise but for some reason, the ER-4p's stick out of the ear a lot more than the hf2. I started using the foam eartips with the hf2 and they definitely are a bit more comfortable overall than the default triple-flange rubber ones.
I like the microphone piece on the hf2 a LOT more than the one on the Vibe Duo. The hf2 mic looks much larger than the Vibe Duo mic because it's wider and flatter and just a bit longer but it's very light so you don't feel any extra drag on that side of the earphones. Plus the mic button on the hf2 is soooo much easier to use. Even though the Vibe Duo button is larger overall, because it's more flush with the mic housing, I often have to fiddle around with the mic a bit before I can figure out where the button is. With the hf2, I instantly know where the button is at first grasp. The mic itself is located higher up on the hf2 which makes it at my lower jaw/chin level which is great. The Vibe Duo mic hangs a bit lower so sometimes I feel I have to bring it up a bit in order to be heard.
The cables of all three earphones are all different too. The ER-4p has a thicker plastic cable up until the Y split where it turns into this odd thin twisted pair cable. The hf2 uses the same thin rubbery plastic cable throughout while the Vibe Duo uses a thin cloth-like cable. I don't really have a preference between the three.
So it appears that once again I'll be keeping the Etymotic earphones over the V-Moda. Don't misunderstand, the Vibe Duo is a great pair of earphones (especially considering the price) but I personally favor clearer sound overall than deep, slightly-overpowering bass. To each his own obviously.
As a brief aside, my coworker recently purchased a pair of Shure SE530's and I got to play around with them for a little while. I confirmed that I'm not a big fan of the "over the ears" type of wear and I thought that the bass wasn't significantly heavier, nor the highs and mids significantly (if at all) clearer. So I'm not entirely sure the Shure is worth the $200 price premium over the ER-4p.
Office move late last week/early this week back to our previous temporary space from a year ago. Same building, different offices. Now we have a spectacular view straight down 9th Ave and I can gaze upon B&H (see crappy iPhone photo above) every day. This should be our last move until we end up in a permanent office space later this year/early next.
Have a couple of things I want to put up hopefully in the next few days. Been on the backburner for awhile. Like a new sling bag review, a brief review on "Asian Fit" sunglasses, and a review on the Pentax K20D. And possibly a few other minor tidbits here and there. Not enough hours in the evening unfortunately.
Devon received this Wheely Bug as a Christmas gift but at the time he had no clue what to do with it and pretty much ignored it. A month or so ago he got around to flipping it over and playing with the wheels underneath. Starting a week or so ago he's made a few attempts at trying to crawl onto its back with no luck. Today I helped him into position and he thought it was a rocking horse. And then he tipped it head over heels and face-planted into the carpet which was hyyyysterically funny but which made him cry. But at least he went right back to it after being consoled by grandma. Eventually he'll figure out how to play with it. ;-p
So Pentax has an interesting shooting mode in their new Pentax K20D called "Burst Shooting" which takes 21 frames/second for about 5 seconds. I think it maxes out at around 115 shots before it has to stop. Each shot is a 1.6 megapixel JPEG at 1536x1024 resolution. When in action, you have to keep the shutter button pressed down, it's completely silent, and LiveView kicks in so you can see the shots occurring in the LCD as they're being taken. This is about as close as you'll get to taking movies on a dSLR at this point in time. The Quicktime slideshow movie I made above while playing around with this mode is only running at 15 frames/second. If you really want to take a look at the full sized version, you can get it here (105MB download).
WARNING: Clicking on the photos in this entry will load up the rather large (~2-3MB) full-sized versions. All photos except for the very first one originally shot in RAW format and converted to JPEG using Adobe Photoshop CS3 with no noise reduction. But the ISO 1600 shots clean up pretty nicely with Noise Ninja.
Had the chance to play around with the new 14.6MP Pentax K20D paired with a Pentax 16-50mm f/2.8 (24-75mm equivalent) for the past month and thought I'd write up my impressions on it. This will be in no way shape or form comprehensive as I didn't test every single functionality on the camera. I just used it as I normally would a DSLR and that was that.
Devon achieved another "first" during yesterday's unseasonably warm weather. He went out for a walk with us sans stroller. I wish Erin had brought the TX1 so we could record him toddling around cause it's just insanely cute. I had to put him back on the sidewalk a bunch of times cause he'd get distracted by every single car that came by. Eventually he got tired of the walking and wanted the Mommy Carriage to bring him the rest of the way home.
Despite the cloudy and chilly weather, we took our new bikes along with Devon's new bike seat out for a test run around the neighborhood. As expected, Devon kicked up a massive fuss when we were putting his helmet on but once we got moving he forgot all about it. Mostly. =) But he seemed to enjoy the ride and the bell on the handlebars gave him something to do.
So about a month ago, I decided to take Erin's suggestion that we get bikes seriously and we started looking. She had been saying she wanted to take bike rides with Devon when the weather got better since this past winter when she spotted this baby/toddler bike seat. Originally this was supposed to have been a relatively quick process. But as Erin would say a few weeks later, "I should have known this was going to happen after the whole aquarium debacle." Obviously not her exact words. ;-p
So on Mother's Day I took the family out to a local beekeeper that I found online. Erin's suffering from massive seasonal allergies and I had heard that taking a teaspoon of honey daily for a year or so would help desensitize the immune system to pollen. Can't be off the shelf stuff since they undergo a treatment process that removes any extraneous matter. And it would preferably be from a beekeeper close to the area so that the trees and plants would be the same. But anyway, a few photos of that will be posted in a later entry.
But on the way to the beekeeper, Devon decided to take his noon nap and since Erin is loathe to wake him during naptime, we wound up just driving around the area for awhile. Besides seeing gigantic $2 million dollar homes, we came across an alpaca farm. So obviously we had to stop on the side of the road and take a few snaps. Unfortunately I didn't have any lens longer than 70mm with me at the time.
And unfortunately they had just been sheared apparently so we didn't see them in their full glory. But this curious fella was nice enough to come right up to the fence to take a closer look.
Typically there are two schools of thought when it comes to umbrellas1.
1. Buy the cheapest ones possible. When it inevitably breaks, just buy another one.
2. Search for the most wind-resistant umbrella possible, cost be damned.
One of our investors at work is a believer of the first school. A bit over a year ago he showed up to work with a big box of dirt cheap, plastic, black, throwaway umbrellas for communal use. These umbrellas would literally fall apart upon opening. A child could bend the stem with one hand. But when facing a commute home in inclement weather with your own umbrella at home, it was better than nothing.
Personally, I've been following the second school for the past 2 years or so. My previous umbrella is this Brookstone one which actually worked pretty well. It had a pretty large 54" inch canopy yet collapsed down to a manageable size. Until one particularly wind-blown day when one of the ribs snapped like a twig. Even crippled it still works although one panel flops around like a fish outta water.
Earlier in the week, these Senz umbrellas caught my eye. Besides looking like the F-117 stealth fighter, I was intrigued by the claim that it won't invert under adverse wind conditions because that's pretty much the main thing I hate about umbrellas. So I ordered their mini folding umbrella which arrived yesterday. Now the mini is supposed to survive only 40mph winds (not 70 like their regular sized version) but it's also not as peculiar-looking as its larger brethren. It's not particularly impressive looking compared to other umbrellas. The ribs look fragile so I'm definitely interested to see how it'll actually perform come crunch time. Comes with a lifetime warranty though so that's something going for it.
And then Devon got his hands on it...
1 Ok, there may also be people who eschew umbrellas altogether but I've only seen one person who does that (or used to) on a regular basis. ;-p
Bit the bullet and picked up a used Lensbaby 3G and macro kit to play around with. Everything's manual so it'll take some time to get used to. And it'll probably be doubly tough to get shots of Devon with it since he's not gonna stay still long enough for me to get everything set up for a proper exposure.
Posting has slowed to a crawl in the past few weeks due to deadlines at work and a sudden immersion into the massive and slightly disorienting flood of data that is FriendFeed. Why post when people on FF with more free time and wit has already done it for you? Anyhoo, I'll get back into the flow soon hopefully; as soon as work slows down a bit and I can rip my eyeballs from Google Reader and FF.
Since we got our bikes earlier this year, I've taken a couple of rides over to my old high school, Hanover Park. Back then, HP was rather different physically from other high schools that I had seen because instead of one large, multi-story building, the classrooms there were split up into a whole bunch of one-story buildings arranged around a huge expanse of grass along with one main (also one story) building that housed the administration offices, auditorium, library, cafeteria, band rooms, and a few other miscellaneous classrooms and the gym in another separate building. So moving from class to class required venturing outdoors which I thought was quite refreshing. It was my understanding (which could be incorrect), that the reason HP is so spread out was because it was built on rather swampy land. So they couldn't build one huge building for fear of it slowly sinking into the earth.
Since I graduated oh so many years ago, I've revisited the campus a couple of times and pretty much nothing had changed. Until this year. Apparently they've gotten some funding and are using it to connect the individual classroom buildings together two by two. I'm not entirely sure what's to be gained by these extensions besides I guess, locker room space (which was at a premium even in my day) but it seems to be a major undertaking. I believe there's some other modifications being done around the gym area but that wasn't as apparent to me exactly what they were doing there.
Now HP's mascot is and has always been, the hornet. Which back in the day I didn't think too much of. As far as I knew they were like bees but less hairy and more efficient stinging machines. That is until this article over at 8asians brought to my attention the Japanese giant hornet. Which is one impressive-looking, and totally badass flying insect. When 30 of these things can systematically annihilate a 30,000 member strong European bee colony in 3 hours without taking any casualties, you know they mean business. But then again, those European bees are just mindless drones. Not like the native Japanese bees, who have developed a way of defeating their mortal enemy by enveloping them into a "bee ball" and giving them one hell of a fever. But of course it's we humans who get the last laugh. Despite killing around 40 of us a year, we eat their young. Deep fried or as "hornet sashimi." Yum! =p
So yeah, I have a new found respect for hornets and hopefully I'll never run into one of those Japanese ones in my lifetime. Or any of those other 4 "most horrifying bugs in the world" either. Ugh, I get the skeevies just thinking about them.
As most of my friends know, when it comes to gadgety things that tickle my fancy, I tend to be an early adopter. The first Powerbook G3, the first Powerbook G4, the first black MacBook, the first MacBook Pro, the first Treo 650, the first iPhone, and many others, I've had them all. However when it comes to checking out Web 2.0 sites, I'm suddenly slow as molasses. It's not that I don't keep tabs on what the latest Web 2.0 site of the week is, I just haven't felt compelled enough for the most part to throw myself headlong into them.
I think the main reason is because the majority of these "sites du jour" are all "social" this or "social" that. If your site doesn't have a social aspect to it, just pack your bags and go home. So why's that a problem for me? Because I'm just not that social. I've typically liked my social gatherings small and preferably with people I actually know IRL. Even back in my old college days when I was heavily into MUD/MUCK/MUSH/MUSEs, I wasn't terribly social. I'm not anti-social (I did somehow manage to get married on a MUD once after all =p) but socializing just isn't a big deal for me.
However, it's not that I haven't tried to get involved in these social sites (Friendster, MySpace, Twitter, Pownce, et al.). But with each of these sites that requires you to ideally replicate your RL connections onto the Interweb, I consistently run into the same, insurmountable obstacle. Practically none of my RL friends give a rat's ass about these sites. I can count on half a hand the number of RL friends I can build a social network on these sites with. The two general replies I get when I query my other obstinate friends about joining these sites are "Like I have time for this sh**?" and "Eh, just doesn't interest me."
Is it because of my age group? I'm guessing the tweens, teens and twenties crowd are generally a lot more receptive to, and enthusiastic about online social networking than those past their third decade of life. And they probably have a lot more free time as well. I think by my age we already have our relatively set circle of friends, hobbies that don't involve socializing on the Interweb and a family life to tend to. Do we really have the time to invest in all these social sites that seem to pop up like weeds? I barely have enough time to keep up with my blogging and tweeting and Google Reader and FriendFeed as it is.
But it's not like I don't try. So lately I started to finally dabble in two sites that I've had accounts in for a while but just haven't gotten around to exploring until now: Flickr and Zooomr. Long story short, I prefer Flickr. It's just a cleaner-looking and easier to use site. Unfortunately it's not free (that 3 set limit for non-pro users is really freakin' annoying) but I can live with the $25/yr fee. Not saying that Zooomr is a bad site. For those who don't think they should have to pay for anything online, it's a great alternative. The Zipline doesn't do anything for me and the UI is just a smidgen too cluttered compared to Flickr but the ability to upload and view full-sized photos (without having to pay) as well as being able to set prices for your photos is cool.
Oh, but the one functionality that I just love on both sites? Geo-tagging!!! That's the shiznit yo. Although I did find it easier to do on Flickr than on Zooomr.
As for the social aspect on these sites, they both have the requisite ability for people to add each other as contacts and to leave comments on photos and to join groups and all that jazz. Zooomr's a bit more in your face with the Zipline so if you've got a group of friends who are into photography and like the whole online socializing biz, then Zooomr would be the site for you.
So going forward I'll probably use Flickr to house all my miscellaneous photos. Devon's stuff will still be over on his site as usual and I'll most likely still keep the bulk of my travel/family photos on my ol' gallery.
Hmm... ok I think I can see what the hoopla's all about. ;-)
Possibly one of the worst-kept secrets ever in recent photography history, the Nikon D700 was announced a few days ago for release amazingly, at the end of July. Now this particular camera was expected as everyone figured Nikon would have to answer Canon's 5D eventually. I think most people however, were surprised at the speed that this camera actually came into being considering the D3 was just released late last year. On paper, its specs are pretty darn enticing. With the D3's sensor and AF crammed into a D300-like body, a few extras thrown in like sensor dust cleaning, and a price tag that's $2k less than the D3 (but ~$1.3k more than the D300), it's a pretty compelling product for those who desire a full-frame sensor and superb AF on a smaller, lighter body. Myself included.
Got up bright and early this morning at 6am for the Apple iPhone 3G launch. Was thinking that I had probably gotten up too early but figured I'd go and drop by the local AT&T store for a look. Got there a little before 6:30 and there was already 20+ people in line. Was prepared for the wait with my trusty ol' PSP. Thank god the weather had turned super nice the past few days instead of massively humid as it was early in the week. Still, by the time 9am rolled around the sun was beating down on our backs like crazy. Or maybe it was just cause we'd been lounging around out in the sun for 2 and a half hours already.
By the time I was ready to enter the store, we already knew that the 16GB models were sold out (which means this particular store only had ~20 16GB units to start with) so I was resigned to picking up an 8GB. They were taking orders for the 16GB for delivery in 7-10 days though. If there is one good thing I can say about the painfully slow purchase and activation procedure, it's that it helped me get the 16GB that I had intended. This particular AT&T store had more employees on hand than computer terminals so the employee helping me and I were just standing around waiting for a computer to open up when I watched a FedEx guy stroll in with a hand truck full of boxes. They were taken into the back room and I asked my guy to check if they happened to be more iPhones. And they were. Bunch of black and white 16GBs. So I was much more psyched than I was just a few minutes ago. Incidentally, the white iPhones look really nice.
After I paid for my new phone and service, I had to waste another 40 minutes hanging around while my guy tried to find a computer that could actually activate the phone. To no avail. By this time the Apple servers handling the activations through iTunes had presumably crashed so nothing was going through. Company policy was that all iPhones had to be activated in store before leaving the premises but since that was no longer possible, they just gave us our iBricks and told us to try to activate them ourselves.
So I stepped out of the store at a little after 10am, 3 and a half hours later. It took another 4 hours before my phone finally activated and sync'ed up with my iTunes. My first impression: "Mm, it's an iPhone." ;-p Not really a massive change from the original. The glossy plastic back is just begging for a case and I hope CoZip comes out with their polycarbonate back case soon for the 3G. The side buttons are now much easier to detect by feel and the speakers do sound louder and no longer seem completely muffled if you hold the iPhone at the bottom.
Nothing majorly different with the new 2.0 OS either (besides the ability to purchase/download and install new apps. Haven't gotten around to really digging into the App Store and checking them out yet but a few standouts that I've noticed so far include Remote, midomi, Twitterrific and Exposure. Is 3G that much faster than EDGE? As far as I can tell with the limited testing I've done today, it does seem faster but I'm not 100% certain on how appreciably faster it may be. I'll probably have a better feel for it after a few days of regular commute use. GPS functionality makes location mapping much more accurate now obviously but I haven't but it through its paces yet either. Oh, but being able to geotag your iPhone photos is pretty cool.
Apple's new MobileMe service was finally up (sorta) this afternoon as well so being a long time .Mac member, I set up the push sync'ing for email, contacts and calendar. First notable thing it did was wipe out all my contacts that were already in the phone so I was contact-less for an hour or so before MobileMe finally figured out that it should start sync'ing stuff between my MobileMe account and my iPhone.
So was it worth it? Jury's still out as far as I'm concerned. I still need to call up AT&T customer service to see if I can somehow rejigger my iPhone account and Erin's normal account into one family plan again like it was with the original iPhone. Right now I'm signed up for the lowest priced individual iPhone 3G plan. Considering I had sold my original iPhone last month for more than the subsidized cost for the iPhone 3G, it didn't really hurt to upgrade as far as the phone's up-front cost is concerned. Anyway, as I've only had this thing for a day there's still a lot more futzing around to be done. I'll post more impressions in the upcoming days/weeks if I remember to. ;-p
So earlier this year Sigma announced their new 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM lens which works on both crop and full-frame bodies. Earlier this month, they started shipping and after seeing some initial reviews I decided to pick one up to check out. Now I've tried 2 of the 3 (well, 4 if you count the discontinued f/1.0) Canon 50mm lenses and had found them lacking in one way or another. The two f/1.4's I've had in the past had great image quality but after gettiing used to the L-quality build on my other lenses, the f/1.4 is rather lacking in that area to say the least. The one f/1.2 copy I tried was not sharper wide open or at f/1.4 compared to the f/1.4 nor was overall image quality that much better and that combined with the purported focus issues at close distances between f/2-2.8 was enough to have me drop the lens from my collection.
So on the basis of the early reviews alone, I had high hopes for the Sigma 50mm. Build quality is nice. It's part of Sigma's EX lineup which is their top-of-the-line so it has that somewhat rough-looking (but not feeling) dark grey finish. It's no L but definitely steps above the f/1.4. The amount of glass this lens appears to be packing is impressive as well which is a little odd cause the Canon f/1.4 doesn't look to be containing anywhere near as much glass. Although my eyes could be deceived by the 77mm business end of the Sigma. The HSM motor focuses the lens silently and quickly enough and I have more confidence in it than that odd lil' micro-USM drive that the Canon f/1.4 uses.
But the most important part obviously is the quality of the images that this lens makes. Truthfully, with this copy, I wasn't overly impressed at its sharpness wide open. Then again I've always thought I've been spoiled by the 2 Canon f/1.4's I've had previously because to me they seemed great wide open which is typically where most reports on that lens say it falls flat. But stop it down a bit and it looks very good. Plus you can always sharpen things up further with PS3 and/or Noise Ninja. If it weren't for the slight softness wide open, this lens' IQ won't be beaten by Canon's offerings.
However, the one thing that this lens excels at is blowing away OOF areas. The bokeh that this lens produces is super creamy and smooth. Whether or not one likes that type of bokeh is obviously based on personal taste. I do like it, especially for portrait shots. For those with crop bodies it's like having an 85mm f/1.2 at a third of the price. And considering that many other owners are calling this the sharpest 50mm they've seen (my copy notwithstanding), this can be a pretty compelling lens.
Another issue with this lens that I'm seeing is that the autofocus doesn't seem to be 100% reliable. Every now and then I get a shot that appears to be front-focused even though I'm 100% certain that I focused on the correct spot. Because of the obviously slim depth of field that such a fast lens can have in combination with its mushy bokeh, I'm having a tough time deciding whether the lens actually has a focusing problem or if it's just been user error. So I have another copy on the way that I'll do a comparison with and hopefully that will help reveal the true nature of this lens.
Either way I'm still undecided on whether or not I'll keep a 50mm prime around. A few months back I was seriously considering searching for a superb copy of the Canon 50mm f/1.2 lens, dropping my 35 f/1.4 and 85 f/1.2 lenses and just going with a 3 lens (2 zooms, 1 fast prime) set. But after completing my Holy Trinity of primes recently, I'm less inclined to go that route. Plus I think I'm getting used to the width of the 35mm and am not so enamored with the 50mm length anymore. So we'll see.
[UPDATE]: So the second copy of the Sigma 50mm came in and after a few quick tests, it's just a tad softer than my first copy. And my Canon 35mm still beats both in sharpness and also displays a bit more contrast than the 50's. Color is pretty good though. Autofocus on both of the 50s seem to show a tiny bit of front-focusing so I'd probably have to send both my body and lens in to Sigma for calibration if I were to actually keep them.
Yeah yeah I'm still waaaay behind on Devon's gallery but I just wanted to put these few up right now. =)
Whenever he does anything that he's proud of, he'll clap for himself. It's funny and cute as hell but I just pretend that it's nothing special so it doesn't get to his head. ;-p
What is it? I have an important phone call to make.
Not the best composition (darn short tree) but the moment would have been lost if I got into a better position.
Apparently he loves dirty gardening tools. Who knew?
All right I want to go in now...
Dev's been a bit under the weather this past week, coming down with a fever and then an odd rash (leading us to believe it might be roseola) which made him rather clingy and ornery. But then I process photos of him when he's having fun like the one above and that makes memories of the bad days disappear quickly. =)
So recently I was able to get my grubby mitts on a black MSI Wind. WTF is a MSI Wind, you say? Why it's only the best EEE class laptop available (somewhat) today. Which may or may not be saying very much since a new model of this laptop class seems to pop up every couple of days. =) Weighing in at a svelte 2.6lbs and packing a 10" backlit LCD, 1.6Ghz Intel Atom processor, 1GB RAM, 80GB hard drive, built-in 802.11b/g and 1.3MP webcam, and most importantly (pay close attention now you wanna-be subnotebook manufacturers) an almost full-sized and correctly positioned right shift key, this lil' plastic wonder rocks and rocks hard. Did I mention it was black? =)
But it's not all hugs and kisses. The trackpad could have been made larger and the single clicker below is a bit too thin and too close to the bottom edge of the case. Apparently something happened between the older batch of Winds manufactured and the newer one (of which mine is part of) where the trackpad chipset is no longer from Synaptic (much to the surprise of even MSI support) so the Synaptic drivers that came with it doesn't recognize the trackpad properly and some functionality is crippled (like scrolling). Personally I never scroll using the trackpad so it's not a big deal.
But besides that, so far everything about this cheapo notebook is pretty superb and it works perfectly for my use: having a small, long-lasting (battery-life-wise) computer downstairs that I can surf around with while watching the boob tube. Originally that role was fulfilled by an ancient Apple Powerbook G3 Pismo that I had picked up off of eBay a few months back. But the Pismo has one fatal flaw: it's processor and video card aren't powerful enough for today's video so no Youtubing and such. The Wind and its Atom processor handles video with aplomb. Watching Quicktime vids at 720p resolution works fantastic but it's chop-chop city when we tried to run full HD 1080 vids on it.
The backlit LCD on this thing is superb. Much, much better than what I was expecting for something of this price. LCD technology has definitely come a looong way in the past few years. The 6-cell battery lasts possibly a good 4-5 hours. I haven't extensively tested battery life but from what I've experienced so far it's been pretty good. They sell a model with only a 3-cell battery for $50 less that shaves .3lbs off the weight but it's better to spring for the 6-cell as the 3-cell only gives you 2-3 hours worth of charge.
The only other niggling concern I have is regarding the potential longevity of this machine. When I was installing another stick of 1GB RAM, I wasn't particularly impressed with the sturdiness of the internals. Cramming so many electrical components and boards into such a small package makes for pretty confined quarters and it was a bit amusing to see some circuitry board flexing underneath my hands while I was pressing down on the RAM chip to seat it.
Plus it's also annoying that you void your warranty just by opening up the case. They have this "your warranty will be void if removed " sticker right over one of the screws on the bottom of the case that you have to break in order to get to the screw. And the sticker itself is annoying as hell. Not only is it not the easiest thing to remove, it leaves a sticky residue that you have to wipe off separately. I hope MSI comes to their senses and modifies their policy like ASUS did for the EEE. They already did so for their units sold in the UK so it's mystifying to me why it's still in effect here.
Anyhoo, the MSI Wind gets a two big thumbs up from me. I wasn't expecting too much out of it truthfully but it's turned out to be quite a pleasant surprise. I've so far kept it running the stock XP Home that it came with but thinking about replacing it with Vista, making it the sole Vista-only machine in the house. Crazy people around the world have crammed other OSes into it (one guy is quad-booting XP, Vista, OS X AND Linux) but I don't feel the need to be that adventurous with it. But if you're looking for a cheap and light, take anywhere laptop to use for lightweight computing activities (word processing, email, web surfing, music listening, video watching, etc.), then this one's for you.
So ever since I read Gizmodo's In Ear Headphone Battlemodo article a little over a week ago, I was intrigued by their praise for the Etymotic hf5. In the comments section I had asked the author if the hf5 was just the hf2 without a microphone and he answered in the affirmative so I didn't give the hf5 much thought after that since I already own the hf2.
The other day though, on a whim, I decided to google around for more info on the hf5 and surprisingly there was very little to be found, even on Etymotic's site. Oddly enough, Amazon already has them in stock. So I decided to try out a pair. In cool cobalt blue. ;-p No news flash here, the 3 models: hf5, hf2, and ER-4p sound pretty much the same to me. At first I thought I detected a bit more fullness of sound with the ER-4p's but I discovered that the cause was the rubber triple-flanged eartips. The default ones that the hf models come with are a bit smaller than the ones that are standard for the ER-4p so I had to insert the hf models deeper to get a better seal (or replace the hf tips with the ER-4p ones). So yes, with Etymotic's, creating that seal in your ear is critical for maximum performance.
Spec-wise, the hf5 is a tiny bit lacking in the high end of the frequency response: 20 Hz -15 kHz compared to 20 Hz -16 kHz for both the hf2 and ER-4p. I don't even think you'll miss much with that 1 kHz difference. Besides that (and the cord length), every other spec is identical. So I'll most likely wind up replacing the ER-4p with the hf5 for at-home use because I prefer the looks, fit and cord. You can't really go wrong with any of the three though.
Took a few days off last week to take Devon and his cousin on a trip to Amish & Hershey country. Kids had a blast, adults were exhausted. ;-)
Gazing out the window of the train at the Strasburg Railroad. It's an old-style coal engine so he was scared by the belching smoke.
Rocking and relaxing with Mommy after dinner outside of the Hershey Farm restaurant. They serve a really, really great Grand Smorgasbord dinner. I'm not usually a big fan of buffet-style meals but I was pleasantly surprised by their food.
Taking a quick breather in-between runs down a slide at Zoo America. The longest slide he's been on by himself.
Devon spent a good 15 minutes here in the Hershey's Chocolate World store moving candles around. He'd move them from one shelf to another or stack them on top of each other before finally putting all of them back on the correct shelves.
Hand-holding any lens > 100mm is always a challenge and the AI Focus mode on the 5D seems to be pretty unreliable and/or slow (or most likely I just need more practice) but every now and then you hit one that makes it crystal clear why the 135mm is such a beautiful outdoor portrait lens. But still have a lot of work to do on my technique.
For the past few weeks I've become pretty disappointed with the Canon 5D's AF performance, particularly with subjects on the move. Yes, I know it's not a body that's geared towards that type of photography but because that's the type of photography I need to deal with (chasing a toddler around should be made an Olympic sport), the shortcomings of the AF system is painfully evident. Performance of the outer focus points become inconsistent in decreasing light, the AI Focus mode takes too long to realize that the subject is moving, and while there's the option to turn on those extra tracking points around the center focus point to help with AI Servo tracking, that doesn't help when you focus using the outer points most of the time.
So while I (and I suspect a fairly large contingent of other Canon owners) sit around waiting for Canon to announce the specs for the 5D's successor, I figured I'd test the waters in the opposing camp again. To that end I got rid of my Canon zooms (only had 2 to begin with, although it was tough giving up that 70-200 f/4 IS) and a couple of other knick-knacks and I picked up the Nikon D700 and a Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G lens. The main attraction of the D700 to me (besides the FX sensor) is the pro-level AF system in a non-pro sized body. I'm eager to test it out to see how well it does tracking down a boy in flight and in low light conditions.
Preliminary usage over this past weekend proved favorable and I'll probably post a few samples later on when I have time to process them. The 24-70mm lens is quite nice and paired to the D700 makes for a pretty excellent, if somewhat heavy, combo. Unfortunately my Canon 24-70 f/2.8 sold quicker than I expected so I'm not able to do a comparison between the two but I'll be testing sharpness against the Canon 35mm f/1.4. We'll see if this Nikon zoom is really as prime-worthy as Nikonians always like to tout. Also have a Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D lens coming in tomorrow which means I'll get to see first-hand how little light I can get away with while using a fast prime on this high ISO machine. That should be pretty exciting. =)
As far as ISO performance is concerned, from the little I've seen so far, I think I'm comfortable with the D700 up to ISO 3200 without much of an issue. ISO 6400 has to be pretty correctly exposed to do well. On the 5D I didn't think about anything up to ISO 800. ISO 1600 usually was ok but could look really nasty if exposure wasn't correct. ISO past 6400 won't be something I use often on the D700 though. Unless the exposure is perfect and all other stars are in alignment, there's not much use for 8000+ unless you shrink them down for web use or something.
But so far the D700 is really an excellent, excellent camera. It's going to take me awhile to figure out every aspect of it though which probably won't happen unless I decide to keep it. But in the meantime I'm looking forward to see how it fares against the 5D.
Alright, the following are some shots taken with the D700 starting from ISO 200 up to ISO 12800. High ISO noise reduction in camera was set to low, photos shot as RAW, converted to DNG before importing to Aperture (since Aperture doesn't support D700's NEF yet) and then converted to JPEG via Adobe PS3 with no post-processing besides some auto-contrast/color/level if I thought it looked better with it. No noise reduction run on these (my regular photo workflow includes a pass through Noise Ninja at the end). Clicking on the photos below will display the full-sized JPEGs which may be a couple megs in size so you have been warned.
Devon, who pretty much ignores me these days when I'm taking photos of him, took an odd liking to the D700's shutter sound. I suppose because it was different from the 5D's that he's been hearing forever now. So the morning this shot and the following two below were taken was different because he would stare right into the lens with a goofy smile and then not move until he heard the shutter go click. Then he'd giggle and continue doing whatever he was doing.
Alright, I received a Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D lens today so how could I not try to pair it with the D700 and try to see what kind of result I would get in a room with minimal light. So I went downstairs into Devon's play area tonight with no interior lights anywhere turned on and the only light source being the street lamp outside that was dampened by our shades that were fully down over the windows. At first the camera wouldn't autofocus because there simply wasn't enough light. So I turned on the built-in autofocus illuminator which solved that problem. And the result is as follows. Focus was on the "F". This first shot is unprocessed besides conversion to JPEG and full-sized if you click through:
This next shot is the same as the first but I've run it through Noise Ninja before exporting as JPEG.
And this last photo I'm putting up to show how it would look as a regular pop-up photo on this blog. Meaning I sized it down to a width of 1024 and ran it through Noise Ninja before saving as JPEG.
So, yeah if you really needed to you can pretty much shoot in next to no light with the D3/D700. You can't shoot in absolutely no light (yes I tried) as the sensor needs something to work with. You obviously won't be using any photos taken in such conditions at full size but shrunken down to around a quarter of the size (which still makes it 1024 pixels wide) and then post processed for noise, the results are more than acceptable in my eyes.
As for the Nikkor 50mm lens, man it's freakin' tiny. So far it seems decent but further testing is needed. Stay tuned.
We first came across this tabby late yesterday afternoon while riding around the neighborhood. Devon followed it around for some time and wanted to touch it but we wouldn't let him because we figured it was a wild/stray. But I found it odd that in the midst of being followed the cat suddenly flipped over onto it's back in the middle of the sidewalk for a few minutes. Thinking back on it now I think he wanted to be petted. But it was also rather bold as we saw it venture right in front of a Samoyed puppy as if to check it out (the puppy was being restrained by its owner) before wandering off.
Actually we had encountered this tabby twice before. Once wandering around the riverside pathway by itself and another time it was actually being walked (on a leash even) by its owner which was a first for me. Although during each of those encounters, I don't think I realized that it was most likely the same cat. But earlier this afternoon, while Devon was playing in the playground, the tabby shows up again. But it stays outside of the playground and another family with two kids are paying attention to it. Devon's trying to get to the tabby but is restrained by the fence surrounding the playground. So as everyone in the vicinity is focused on the tabby, the father of the other family tells me that this tabby is usually here around this time waiting for its owner to come home (the bus stop is right next to where we are). I was pretty amazed to say the least as I've never heard of a cat doing anything like that before. I wonder if the owner just lets it outside in the morning and then brings it back inside at night. And it doesn't run away. So it's a cat that roams around freely without running away, but also doesn't mind being walked, and is apparently rather bold and sociable. I don't believe I've ever heard of a cat like that before.
Anyhow, after we let Devon out of the playground, the cat's still lounging around in the area so Devon started following it around again. At first the cat would keep moving away but Devon kept tracking it down so eventually it just gave up and flopped onto the ground to continue its wait. So Devon got to stroke it and pet it and push it and grab its tail.
He was pretty happy after that. =)
'k, so I'm a POM fan and I was pretty shocked to see these start showing up in my local bodega and over at Mitsuwa. From pomegranate juice to coffee??? And coffee laced with an "ultra-potent, 100%-pure polyphenol antioxidant extract" nonetheless. Seems to me to be a rather peculiar expansion of one's product line. Now while I'm not a coffee drinker, I have been known to be a sucker for a good and sweet iced coffee . This new POMx stuff? Not a fan. Probably because of the reduced fat milk. I like my milk full of all its fatty glory.
As I had mentioned in this previous entry, Nikon's 50mm f/1.4D lens was surprisingly small. Smaller than Canon's 50mm f/1.4 which is pretty small to begin with. Plopping this on the D700 after the hefty 24-70mm f/2.8 makes it almost feel like a small entry-level DSLR like the D60 or Canon XSi.
Performance-wise it's no slouch though. Definitely sharp enough. No USM/Silent Wave Motor but the noise while autofocusing isn't loud at all. Pretty quick AF too although it does seem to have a bit more difficulty in achieving focus lock in low light conditions. Plus it doesn't adjust as quickly under continuous focus tracking when compared to a G lens like the 24-70.
We were originally scheduled to visit Sesame Place this Saturday but the remnants of Tropical Storm Hanna squelched that plan by making Saturday incredibly humid from morning til about mid-afternoon and then dumping like half a foot of rain from mid-afternoon til well into the evening. Fortunately, Hanna was in a hurry to clear out of the area and in its wake came an absolutely gorgeous day: sunny and high in the mid 80s. So we headed on out.
As per his usual modus operandi, Devon was initially shell-shocked upon arrival. Was afraid of pretty much everything but there were a few play areas that he was fine with. After lunch and an hour-long nap though, he was in a much better mood. Still afraid of some things but was much more easily coaxed into not being afraid than in the beginning. But I think overall he had a lot of fun. The areas he enjoyed he really enjoyed and it's always fun to watch your own kid having a blast.
Sesame Place is actually a pretty ideal amusement park for little kids. It's small and everything there is geared towards the little ones so you can spend a pretty nice day there. Most of the rides were still too scary for Devon though so I'm hoping he'll have more fun next year when he's older. Half of the park is water-oriented so go in your bathing suits. Today wasn't as crowded which was great as we had heard it could get insanely busy at times. Plus it's a relatively shorter drive than going out to Dutch Wonderland. A little over an hour since it's right across the NJ/PA border.
So it was a tiring day for lil' Dev. Saw and experienced lots of new things and got a new lil' stuffed Elmo and Elmo ball. It's really a shame that when you grow up, you forget most of what you've experienced as a kid. Oh well, guess that's why I'm taking all these pictures. ;-p
No, not the 5D Mark II. Just the bastard stepchild that no one seems to care about. ;-p I figured I'd check out the 50D until the 5D Mark II is released at the end of November. Also thought I'd check out the new EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens for future vacation use. This just arrived today so haven't had time to actually test it out much yet. I was pretty surprised already just looking at the box though. This is the first time I remember seeing a camera/lens kit come with things other than just the lens. The kit price is basically the same as if you purchased the body and lens separately. BUT, this time, the kit also comes with an extra battery, the HOOD for the lens, and a 72mm UV filter. Shocking. Canon's been known to nickle and dime their customers on the hood front with their non-L lenses so this was unexpected. And the UV filter is Canon brand which probably isn't B+W or Hoya great but sufficient I guess if you really want some protection for the 18-200. And the 50D uses the same battery as the 5D so that's a plus.
As for the 18-200 lens, well, it's pretty much just like any other EF-S lens in build quality. I never really had an issue with the build quality of the non-18-55mm EF-S lenses so I won't blast it like the hardcore L snobs will but the Nikon version is nicer-looking though. ;-p Plus it has the Nikon equivalent of the USM AF motor AND is a little bit cheaper to boot. Lack of a USM motor is a bummer so AF noise is a bit louder than I'm used to. The IS seems to work pretty well even out at 200mm. Although I'm a little suspicious of the actual length at 200mm. It seems to me that the lens doesn't actually move much from 170mm to 200mm. I know these superzooms don't actually give you a true 200mm length but this lack of difference is a bit too noticeable.
So I'll be putting this baby through its paces starting tomorrow hopefully (weather's supposed to be kinda crappy here the rest of the week). Most interested in the high ISO and AI Servo performance. As well as the sharpness of the 18-200 lens. At first glance, physically it's not much different from the 5D. Feels and weighs about the same. Going back down to the smaller viewfinder was a rude awakening though. Although the info bar at the bottom is much easier to read on the 50D. The new LCD is obviously very nice and the menu layout and control is much better than the 5D although I believe nothing new from the 40D. Anyways, more later. =)
So Devon got a care package from Erin's brother and cousin yesterday. A bunch of little Tomica cars that Devon proceeded to baby for the rest of the day. Even when he went to bed he wanted all the cars with him. And Erin got a few books and CDs she had requested. Me? Well, I didn't ask for anything. But when I got home, Erin handed 4 little boxes to me and said, "Here, these are for you." WTF??? I mentioned to her ONCE that a cosplay café had opened in Kaohsiung before we went back for Devon's one-year birthday last year. Didn't even mention it when we were actually back in Taiwan. And I'm not even a figurine collector. Well, except for the Gundam Fix Figuration stuff but that's not even remotely close to this. *sigh* I guess I'll eventually get around to opening them. ;-p
So earlier this year I tried out a Pentax K20D and 16-50mm f/2.8 lens for a short while and was pretty impressed by the combination. Back then I had taken a couple of center sharpness comparison shots against my bookshelf between the Pentax and my regular Canon 5D and 24-70mm f/2.8 combo and they basically just sat in my "Processed" folder for the past 5 months waiting to be written up. So yeah, this is long overdue. As usual, these shots were taken during the evening so only light source is a 6' tall fluorescent lamp that illuminates upwards towards the ceiling. Bodies were tripod mounted, 3 shots taken at each aperture and length and the best one taken from each set of 3. ISO set at 200, 100% crops of the middle of each photo. Center focus point which would be the white book with thin grey stripes and purple lettering in the middle. Books to the left are an inch behind the center book and the one on the right. So first up, wide open at 16/24mm.
As far as I can tell, very little difference. The Pentax may have just a smidgen better white balance but the Canon looks a bit smoother in general. But that's because of the body and not the lens. So on the wide end, both lenses are pretty comparable. No point in putting up the sample shots at f/4 and f/8 since they're exactly the same. Both of these lenses are quite sharp at the wide end.
So we'll move on to the telephoto end. 50/70mm at f/2.8.
Since the Pentax is a 1.5x crop camera, the 50mm is actually 75mm at the long end but I moved the tripod back a few so that the framing of the shot would be as similar as possible. Anyway, looking at these wide open results, it's odd to see that the Pentax suddenly has worse white balancing but it's superior in sharpness and resolution. Upon close inspection, the grey vertical and horizontal lines can be seen as consisting of tiny zig-zags instead of being just a straight line.
Even at f/8, the grey lines on the Canon side still look blurred while the Pentax is showing them exceptionally clear. No contest on the long end.
So what can be gleaned from this? Well obviously Canon and Nikon don't have a lock down on the ability to make exceptional and sharp lenses. Because the 16-50mm lens was designed for Pentax's crop digital cameras, it's physically smaller and lighter than Canon's relatively older 24-70mm. And in this case, its sharpness is better overall than the 24-70. However, you can really only see the difference when viewing the full-sized photos at 100% so for practical, everyday printing/web use, they'll both give great results. If I was a Pentax shooter and wanted a mid-range zoom that can rival anything out there, then the 16-50mm f/2.8 will definitely not disappoint.
Lot of people like the new car smell, I prefer the new gadget smell. Well, ok, I wouldn't mind a new car smell but that ain't happening for a while so new gadget smell is all I can get these days. ;-p
Anyway, this just arrived via FedEx this morning (one day early I might add) while I was getting ready to leave for work so all I had time to do were these 2 blurry shots. Full unboxing photos later this evening. ;-)
So, finally got the chance to open up my new MBP late last night. First off, I think the box is getting smaller with every release. As can be seen, the top lid of the box has a piece of thick black padding glued to it to protect the MBP which sits underneath like a big silver slab. Note the black "Designed by Apple in California" tag. You're going to see them in many places. Here, you pull on it to lift the MBP out of the tray that it sits in.
It was remarkably easier this year to get Devon into his Halloween costume than last. He didn't even complain about the cap even though it was too small for him so Erin had to tie it down around his ears and under his chin. Apparently telling him we were going out to get candy made a difference. ;-p
Just a few shots of the aftermath of Devon's first trick-or-treating expedition. While taking him around, we would tell him to take only one piece of candy per house which he actually abided by surprisingly enough. But we weren't very strict about enforcing the rule if the homeowner offered him one or two more and he wasn't about to refuse either. ;-p
His favorite candy is still the lollipop. Although overall he's not a big candy eater. He loves unwrapping them, taking a lick/bite or two, and then handing the rest to Mommy or Daddy so he can tear open the next one. So after a while we left the hard candy items out for him to explore and hid all the chocolate.
There was one particular household (unfortunately I forget which one otherwise I'd make sure to go back to them every year) that took Halloween very seriously. They handed out an orange Halloween-themed packet that contained two candy bars and a small jar of Play-Doh. Good thing this stuff is now made out of wheat cause Devon did take a few licks. ;-p
Personally I'd completely forgotten about Play-Doh but the distinctive smell brought back memories. And Devon seemed to enjoy it after I started showing him all the fun things you can do with it. =)
Work's been busy and will remain so till the end of the year so posting will probably be light for the remainder of the year. Well, not that it was that frequent to begin with. Anyway, just thought I'd throw up a few current shots of Dev.
During the weekends we'll take Devon out and about while we run errands; mostly grocery shopping and the like. Occasionally we'll still be on the road when we run into his afternoon nap time in which case he'll sleep in the car. These two shots were taken right after he woke up to find himself alone in the backseat since Erin had gone grocery shopping. So he was waiting for Mommy to come back. Taken with the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G.
I reclined the driver's seat back to have a better shot at him and he liked grabbing onto the head rest to get a better forward view.
Following two after dinner shots were taken with the Sigma 50mm f/1.4.
Buying sippy cups for him early on was a complete waste as he disliked them and basically learned how to use a straw and then drink directly from a cup pretty quickly. Being a baby, he'll still spit out stuff for unknown reasons which is pretty annoying but since most of the time it's just water, we're not too upset. Plus we figure he'll figure it out eventually that getting yourself wet isn't an entirely enjoyable feeling.
Now Kit Kats rank high up on my list of favorite chocolate snacks so I was a bit befuddled upon seeing fruit-flavored Kit Kats at Mitsuwa. They have this "Muscat of Alexandria Grape Kit Kat" and some other berry flavored one. And it's not just fruit flavored, it's fruit AND chocolate flavored. I'm not a fan. I'll stick with the original, thanks.
So the long-awaited Canon 5D Mark II has finally hit the streets. Well, trickling to the streets is more like it. Despite having preordered at 4 different places, none of them came through for me. But luckily a tip on FM helped me snag one from a relatively unknown store in the city. A store which just happened to be across the street from where I used to work years ago.
Won't delve too much into the hardware in this post but suffice to say, it's nice that the 5D body has finally been updated to match the rest of Canon's current lineup. I'm most happy with the high rez LCD and auto sensor cleaning. The new button layout I've seen since the 40D/50D so nothing new to me. The auto ISO functionality I think is a bit mysterious as I can't tell sometimes why it chooses the particular settings that it does but I guess it's a start. The AF is, as expected, about on par with its predecessor but does seem to be a bit more accurate in lower light conditions. Hard to really say since I haven't used the old 5D in awhile now. But what I was really interested in was the image quality. Namely, can I now shoot in the ISO 1600 to 6400 range on a regular basis without a second thought like I can with the Nikon D700.
So a few months back I was alerted to a few photography lectures and workshops that Canon was running. Decided to sign up for the "Flash Demystified" workshop with Bob Davis since I figured it was high time I actually learned how to use my flash. Unfortunately, by the time I had decided to sign up, the workshop was already full but I was waitlisted anyway. A few weeks back I got an email saying that I was in. So, on a brisk Saturday morning I made my way into the city to join 15 other lucky individuals to learn and practice our flash techniques. Well, in my case not really techniques, more like just fumbling around and doing a lot of "well let's see what happens if I set it like this."
Not having ever been to a workshop, I was pretty surprised to discover that we'd be shooting models. So this was turning out to be an interesting experience already. ;-p Thankfully, the models knew how to, well, model which made my life easier cause I really suck at asking people how to pose for me. So anyway, here are some shots that came out all right (and a few not so good) from the time spent there. But it was definitely quite an experience and I did learn a lot. Namely that I really need to practice shooting more often cause I was making mistakes left and right.
So it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that when it comes to Apple products, photography equipment, and various other gadgetry, I enjoy living on the cutting edge. Equally unsurprising is that in doing so, I expose myself to technological issues that less fervent individuals would not run into. Previously I had posted about my disappointment with Bluetooth peripherals and how the old RF wireless protocol remains superior when needing to share a set of peripherals with multiple computers. Now in the intervening months since that post, I have been using Apple's wireless keyboard since I'd been pretty much ignoring my desktop PC. But I recently decided to switch back to my old RF Logitech keyboard and bring my PC back to life. Economic conditions and the performance of Parallels on a MacBook Pro being what they are, I seriously doubt I'll be acquiring a Mac Pro anytime soon and I definitely still need a dedicated Windows machine.
Hope everyone had a rockin' New Year! Mine was very low key as my lil' one came down with his first cold of the year. Whoo hoo! =p Ah well, we'll make up for it in the future. =) Anyway, I figured it'd be a good day to start out my own 365 Project and see how far I can take it. Might as well put all this equipment to some use. ;-p But since I'm an ol' married and toddler-beholden fogy right now, this may be a pretty short project as my daily and weekend routines are pretty well, rote. But I'll give it a shot.
I'm hoping this will help me get over my photo-taking shyness when I'm not with family. I carry a camera around with me pretty much daily but always feel self-conscious when it comes to actually taking it out to shoot with. Which makes no sense since the majority of my daily life is spent in NYC which is overrun by camera-toting tourists. Oddly, once the camera is out and I start clickin', the feeling goes away but I find it tough to actually get to that point. So we'll see how it goes. Plus this will force me to pay attention again to the scenery that I pass by day in and day out and I guess anyone who takes a look at my project will get a glimpse of the stuff that I see on a daily basis. Which is the main reason I like going through other people's 365 projects. So anyway, wish me luck and while this isn't really a New Year's resolution or anything, I'll try to stick to it like it is one. =)
So I've been futzing around with Web 2.0 social media sites within the past year, sites like Flickr, Twitter, FriendFeed, etc. Now I'm used to individuals owning accounts in social media sites, but it never occurred to me that corporations would have them too. Not only own the accounts but actually hire someone to actively engage the community in their name.
The first time I ran into this was back in December when I tweeted about TurboTax. Just an offhand, flippant remark that I expected to be just read and ignored by my paltry few subscribers just like most of my other tweets. So I was completely floored when I actually received a reply. My first thought was, damn, that's kinda creepy. But then I thought about it a bit longer and decided that ok, that's actually pretty cool. Kudos to these companies hip enough to engage their customers/detractors in such a fashion.
Similarly, last night I posted the photo above to my Flickr account as my daily 365 Project photo (which, after 12 days is still going strong thank you very much. ;-p) and within a few hours, I get a notice that I was just added as a contact by SanDisk Corp. For what nefarious purposes, they have not yet revealed but pretty interesting nevertheless.
[UPDATE]: A few hours after posting this entry, I was added as a contact on Flickr by the e-Commerce Manager for The New Yorker Hotel and then received an email from him thanking me for taking pictures of his hotel, namely this photo. I should ask him for a discount. ;-p
So, a bit Big Brother-ish somewhat but overall it's interesting to see that an increasing number of companies either see value in these social media sites or are at least willing to feel around to see how they can work it to their favor.
So I finally decided to bite the bullet and get a Drobo to help with my photo archive needs. That $50 rebate was the straw that broke the camels back. Decided to go with it instead of a NAS because I still prefer the speed of a direct, physical connection between storage device and computer. I guess if I ever change my mind I could also pick up a DroboShare. Anyway, it arrived late last week and I pretty much had it up and running in half an hour. Would have been less if I didn't spend the time to take photos.
Physically, Sigma did one heck of an amazing job shrinking this lens. Usually 24-70mm lenses with a wide f/2.8 aperture are big and heavy but this new Sigma is nice and compact. Still heavy though. Plus the hoods tend to be huge (with the Canon & Nikon versions) so I'm not sure how Sigma's getting away with these shallow hoods on their 24-70s.
It still retains the 82mm filter size from its older brethren but at its full extended length, it's just about the length of the old model when retracted. Plus they finally went against the grain and made the lens short at 24mm and long at 70mm. All the 24-70s prior to this one were physically longer at 24mm and shorter at 70mm which I always found kind of strange.
Build-wise it's typical Sigma EX quality so nothing unexpected there. So physically it's beat the Canon/Nikon on size alone. The 24-70 is my main walkaround lens but I've often wished they were smaller and less noticeable than they actually are and this new Sigma delivers big time in that aspect. Hope the image quality will prove to be comparable to the big boys as well.
UPDATE: Well I ran my usual focus/sharpness tests last night and found this Sigma to be front-focusing significantly. Even the 5DII's lens microadjustment feature set to the max (-20) couldn't fix it. But got a new copy this morning so we'll see how this one goes...
UPDATE 2: Well that's 2 for 2. Second copy front-focused as well. Not as bad, but still there. On to lens #3. If this one doesn't work, I give up.
So in my previous entry I mentioned I was working on a 3-way shootout between the Canon, Nikon and Sigma 24-70s. Unfortunately I've run into a bit of a snag. Specifically, the new Sigma 24-70 refuses to autofocus properly with my Canon 5DII body. It front focuses by a good 5/8th of an inch at 70mm which is more than the AF microadjustment feature on my 5DII can correct for. I'm sure it front focuses at 24mm as well, it's just not as noticeable. And to top it off, this problem has happened with 3, count 'em, THREE, different copies of the lens. Manual focusing works fine though. Which would make me believe maybe there's something wrong with my 5DII. But then again, focus seems to be fine when I use my Canon lenses.
Anyway, I've got one final copy coming in from a different source on Monday so we'll see if that shows anything different. If not, I'll just go with what I have. In one of my Flickr shots, I mentioned that I wasn't particularly impressed with the Sigma's IQ at that point. Now I know it's because of the front focus issue. If I ignore the focusing problem and look at the areas of the photos taken with the Sigma that ARE in focus, they look pretty good. Even wide open. So I'm hoping this last copy will work out for me. Stay tuned...
UPDATE: Well it's official, my 5DII just does not like the Sigma 24-70 lens for some reason. The 4th copy that I just received also front focuses significantly. To the point where I can tell just by looking through the viewfinder that it's not completely in focus. *sigh* I'll still run my sharpness test with it but I'll have to focus manually. I'm not that great of a manual focuser but hopefully it'll work out.
Ok, I don't have as much time as I used to in my prior pixel-peeping posts so I'm going to make this quick. I'm posting a couple of 100% center crops at f/2.8 and at 24mm, 35mm, and 70mm for the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G AF-S and Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM lenses and my thoughts on them. All shots were taken on a tripod, no flash, ISO 200, RAW, opened in Photoshop CS4 with NO sharpening whatsoever and color/exposure adjusted to match across the board. Saved to JPEG w/quality set to 10. Each individual image below contain 4 slices: 1 each for Canon and Nikon and 2 for Sigma (1 w/autofocus (AF) and the other with manual focus (MF)). Focus was on the white book with purple lettering and light grey lines. The white book to the right of this one is at the same depth. The two books to the right of that is about 5/8" in front while the two books to the left are 5/8" behind. Before I took the crops, I had to shrink all the shots taken with the Canon 5DII down to the same dimensions as the D700 (5616 to 4256 width). Make sure to click on each image to see full size.
So, at 24mm, besides some color differences with the purple lettering, everything looks acceptable across the board. Although it appears that the Nikon and Sigma AF are front-focusing just a bit.
At 35mm, the Canon and Sigma (MF) look quite comparable. Nikon looks pretty good too but shows a little bit of front-focus as the red book all the way to the right seems to be more in focus than in the Canon and Sigma (MF) samples. The Sigma (AF) crop looks fuzzier than the others but the red book on the right looks well in focus.
And finally at 70mm, everything looks comparable except for Sigma (AF) which is way fuzzed out. This is the front focus issue I mentioned in my earlier post.
So, what's my conclusion? Well, when it comes down to center sharpness, all 3 lenses are quite comparable in my opinion. Sigma's downfall is its unusually bad autofocus. When the focus is on, it's darn sharp. If I really want to keep it, a trip for the 5DII body and lens to Sigma would definitely be necessary.
This copy of the Canon that I currently have is the sharpest I've seen wide open at the long end and I've been through quite a few. Downsizing the Canon 70mm sample caused it to lose a bit of detail since at native size, it's quite apparent that the light grey lines on the focused-on book are zig-zag which I've only seen resolved by 3 other lenses wide open that I've tested: the Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS at 55mm, Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS at 200mm, and the Pentax 17-50mm f/2.8 at 50mm. Actually with the full sized, manually focused shot of the Sigma, you can make out the zig zags a little bit as well.
As for the Nikon lens, it's no slouch either. This particular copy may be front-focusing a little bit on my D700 body but it's definitely not as bad as with the Sigma and is probably something I can fix with the micro-adjustment feature if it really bothers me (which it doesn't at this point).
Anyway, if you want to check out the non-cropped, full-sized shots (JPEG) for each lens so that you can check out the edges and corners and color and whatnot, you can download them all here. I didn't bother putting up stopped down samples cause there wasn't anything out of the ordinary with them and nothing new that you can't tell from the wide open samples. A bit sharper than at f/2.8 and not much difference between the brands.
So, is the Sigma worth it? At $900 it's about $350 cheaper than the Canon version and $800 less than the Nikon. If you want to take a chance that you'll get one with perfect autofocus, then yeah, the combination of size, IQ and price is pretty great. Especially if you're in the Nikon camp. Even if you're a Canon user, $350 is nothing to scoff at. But definitely test that focus at 70mm immediately if you do get one. Hopefully you'll have better luck than me.
Long time listeners will undoubtedly know that I'm a big trackball fan. So I was pretty stoked when Kensington announced their first new trackball in 6 years, the Slimblade Trackball. Yeah it isn't wireless (grrrr....), but it is a trackball. So I preordered one from Amazon and it was delivered to me a few days ago. So I figured I'd post a few unboxing shots and my initial thoughts on this highly-anticipated (ok, not really =p) trackball entry.
After a few days of use, I decided that the previously reviewed Kensington Slimblade Trackball could not overcome the handicap of not being able to program its two top buttons. Being unable to easily go back or forward a page while in a browser was severely crimping my style. ;-p So I picked up the 6 year old Kensington Expert Mouse instead. As you can see from the photo above, the two are pretty similar physically from a width and length perspective.
This past weekend we took Devon to his first Easter egg hunt at Hamilton Park. It was an interesting day for all of us as Erin and I discovered that we should not tell him beforehand what we would be doing later. Cause if it sounds exciting enough to him, he has no problems skipping his afternoon nap time in anticipation. And it's not like we upsold him on it or anything. I just casually mentioned that we'd go looking for eggs later.
So I've had my Flickr account for about a year now and for the last month or so I've averaged about 50-75 views per day (if that). I don't put a lot of stuff up since my 365 Project photos trickle in at one per day and most of the time I'll post photos directly to either my blog or Devon's site.
For the prior 2 weeks, the New York International Auto Show had been in town and so I had taken a bunch of pictures when we visited one day. Those photos I uploaded as a set to Flickr where they sat around for about 4 or 5 days before apparently suddenly hitting the limelight. Late two evenings ago, I started noticing a rather significant uptick in my Flickr stats. By the time I woke up the next morning, my current day view count was already up in the 30k range. I kept an eye on it throughout the day and was amused when every refresh of the stats page showed an increase in the hundreds.
I took the above screenshot when the Flickr day ended. As you can see, I supposedly amassed 68,945 total views across my Flickr photos, photostream, and sets. The prior day (which isn't shown here) my total was a bit over 600. Prior to this huge surge, my total view count since I created my account a year ago was 9,884. So in one day my total view count increased almost 7X.
Here you can see that the photos that were on the receiving end of all this attention were my shots from the auto show. And apparently, Bumblebee is a HUGE draw for people. Or is he? And why are my photos getting all this attention now when they had been living in relative anonymity for the past week?
Delving into the referrers chart reveals some answers I believe. Apparently, a good chunk of my shots were picked up in Yahoo's "Community & News" module for their Auto Show section. And guess which photo shows up in the #1 spot. Right, Bumblebee. So it appears that a good # of visitors came in from Yahoo Autos through the Bumblebee photo and then ping ponged around the rest of my car show set and even my photostream.
Some questions remain though. Like why is Bumblebee in that first spot? He's not the first photo in my set. And why are all my photos from that set showing up in that module? I can't be the only one who took photos at the auto show, tagged them and released them under Creative Commons. And what the heck is this "Unknown Source" referrer that's apparently piping in a bit over 20% of views. Plus, are these views actually from visitors coming through Community & News? Or are views being counted if someone just visits an auto-related page on Yahoo that calls up the Community & News module? I tend to think that they are actual visitors since I assume Yahoo's overall traffic is even heavier. And if that is the case, wow.
Anyway, not that I'm complaining or anything (except for the fact that this sudden spike of traffic is going to ruin that topmost "Daily aggregate views" chart for me for the next month. ;-p
Plus the interest seems to be dying down as traffic today is nowhere near yesterday's levels. Still high compared to my previous numbers though.
The day I took these photos was notable because it was the first time Devon actually decided it was ok to wear my sunglasses for longer than 2 seconds. Actually it was the first time he let me seat it on his face without balking.
And he really likes 'em. Previously, whenever he would see them, he'd tell me to put them on. Now, he takes them from me and puts them on himself. I think it's time to get him his own pair of sunglasses. =p
Devon received a backpack for his first birthday from his aunt and we didn't break it out until recently.
As is the case with most toddlers, they love new things and this backpack was no exception. We loaded it up with a few of his current favorite toy cars while he added 2 CDs, a change purse and a plastic clip and headed off to dinner and then an after-dinner riverside stroll.
At first we were afraid he had already outgrown the backpack without even having worn it once but that turned out to be an unnecessary fear. It's not the largest of packs but it's pretty darn cute.
Devon was quite happy to have a new bag to carry his items around in. Of course he hasn't quite worked out how to wear it without parental supervision but we're working on it. ;-)
So, during the time that this blog was down, we took a trip to Taiwan. Our Taiwan trips seem to pretty much fall into the same pattern over the last few years: lunch/dinner with relatives, lunch/dinner with friends, lunch/dinner with old coworkers, wandering around department stores, paying an amount that I would never even consider paying in the States for a haircut, and a trip to the dentist. During our last trip, I traveled light when it came to photo gear. Packed just a Nikon D80, a Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR, and a Sigma 30mm f/1.4 in a Crumpler Sinking Barge backpack. Also used a Crumpler 5 Million Dollar Home bag for everyday use. This time, I thought I'd be a masochist and bring more gear.
To that end, I settled on the following kit:
So I've owned the Panasonic LX3 for quite some time now and overall I like it a lot as my DSLR alternative. The only weaknesses being its limited pocketability and short zoom range (24mm-60mm). For a point & shoot, it's packed full of yummy features and controls that will satisfy the majority of control freaks out there. Enter the Canon S90. Reborn from the ashes of the old S-series (which hadn't been updated for 4 years), the S90 brings back the RAW-shooting capability of its S70 progenitor and more importantly, does it in a significantly smaller body.
One other notable feature on the S90 is the large lens aperture (for a point & shoot) on the wide end (f/2.0 at 28mm). Unfortunately that wide aperture isn't maintained across the zoom range (dropping down to f/4.9 at 105mm) but I assume that wouldn't have been possible without increasing the size of the camera significantly. Now the LX3 is also capable of f/2.0 at its widest setting (24mm) and that decreases slightly to f/2.8 at its longest (60mm). So it's only natural to compare the two although the S90 is one stop slower (f/3.5) around the 60mm range.
For this shootout, I'm only testing the JPEGs, not the RAWs, from each camera. Photos were shot in Av mode, white balance was set to Tungsten, image stabilization was turned on and i-Contrast was set to Auto on the S90 while iExposure was set to Standard on the LX3.
So, it's been a little over a year since my last earphone post. Ever since I picked up the Etymotic hf2, it has been my preferred everyday earphone for use with the iPhone. However, the hf2 isn't without its problems. Or more specifically, one HUGE problem. There appears to be a manufacturing defect with the original hf2 that causes either the left or right channel to just cut out for no visible reason. The weak point seems to be where the cord meets the plug, cause if I messed around with the cord a bit right above the plug, the sound would come back, but immediately disappear again if the cord was moved. So it appears that the wire within the cord was breaking somehow even though the exterior plastic cord was fine. This issue happened not once, but THREE times in the past year and a half. Thankfully, Etymotic replaced the non-functioning ones free of charge since they were all under warranty. And I know it wasn't user error because after the first time, I was doubly careful every time I unplugged the earphones, gripping the plug and not the cord.
A more impatient fellow would have given up after the second occurrence of this issue and probably switched to another brand. Luckily for Etymotic, and unfortunately for me I guess, I still stuck with them because there weren't any other iPhone-compatible earphones that could compare at the time. When it wasn't broke, the hf2 was still the best-sounding microphone and controller-equipped earphone available.
With 30 days left in my first 365 Project, I've been looking ahead and pondering whether or not to continue in 2010 with the 365@50 Project. I'm still undecided. Maybe I'll take a year off first. But just in case, I'll be testing out a few 50mm lenses as I don't currently own one. In my previous forays with the 50mm (I've owned at one point or another: Canon f/1.4, Canon f/1.2 and Sigma f/1.4), I've never been completely excited about it. Sharpness wide open never seemed to be that great (although to be fair, I've been comparing them to my 85mm @ f/1.2 that's wonderfully sharp).
The first two to arrive are the Sigmalux (Sigma 50mm f/1.4) and the Zeiss Planar 50mm f/1.4 ZE. The Sigma is still a tank, large and well-built. Bokeh is still as creamy as ever but this particular copy seems to be a bit softer than I was expecting wide open. The Zeiss follows more along the lines of the Canon and Nikon 50mm f/1.4s in size except it's fantastically well-made with its all-metal body (even the hood is metal!). Its bokeh does not lose out much if at all to the Sigma and it does seem to be sharper wide open although kind of hard for me to tell at times because it's still tough to nail focus through the 5D2's viewfinder (even with the EG-S focus screen) at that large aperture. But I'm very impressed with it. I just wish it had autofocus. =\
Anyway, I'm expecting the Canon f/1.4 and f/1.2 either today or tomorrow so will be posting another pixel peeping post in the next few weeks. Should be interesting. =)
And all I've got to show for it are these lousy photos. ;-p
Obviously there were some much better days than others (I'm nowhere near the level where I can crank out stunning shots every day, unlike some other photographer's projects that I've run into throughout the year) but overall I had a good time doing it. Frankly I'm surprised that I actually completed it as there were quite a number of days where I was still scrambling to find something to shoot at 11:45pm. ;-p
It's going to feel a little strange not having to come up with something every day but I'm not sure if I can turn off the bit of my mind that's constantly on the lookout for an interesting view. This project has scarred me that much. =) I decided not to continue this year with the 365@50 project as I definitely feel the need for a break. But I may start dabbling in The Daily Shoot every now and again.
Anyway, I would definitely encourage anyone interested in starting a 365 project of your own. It definitely won't be a cakewalk but doing it in the company of others (even virtual) can help a lot. I'm not sure if there's any real words of wisdom I can pass along to those in search of inspiration during their projects except to peruse the works of others and when all else fails, go macro. ;-p
Ah yes, and lest I forget, Happy New Year everyone! May your 2010 be full of memorable moments. =)
So today, practically the entire Northeastern seaboard was expecting to be hammered by the second of two major snowstorms within days of each other. Those of us north of Central Jersey were lucky enough to have avoided the worst of the first one that had dropped up to 2 feet of the white stuff in places. Earlier this week, I had decided to pull the trigger on a Canon 1D Mark III after seeing how ridiculously low (well, relative to other DSLRs ;-p) the price for these had gotten in the second-hand market after the release of the 1D Mark IV. I figured now was a good time to try out my first "pro" body plus I wanted to compare it to (and possibly replace) the newer Canon 7D that I currently have as my action cam. The 7D's a really impressive body with a great set of features but I haven't been entirely satisfied with the graininess of its high-ISO shots.
Luckily, the 1D3 arrived yesterday. Making today the perfect opportunity to test out its weather-proofing in the snowstorm. The snow was coming down quite heavily with occasional high-speed gusts of wind. I had ventured out into a prior storm with the Canon 5D Mark II but that one didn't match the overall intensity of today's brew. I guess I shouldn't be surprised to report that the 1D3 + 24-70mm f/2.8 lens passed the bad elements test with flying colors.
The camera was pretty much covered with snow after less than two minutes outside. After awhile I had melted snow running down pretty much every part of the camera and lens. At one point I brought the camera to my face to find that even the viewfinder was covered with snow. But a few quick and awkward wipes from a gloved finger and I was back in business.
The above two shots I took after coming back inside and doesn't fully represent what the camera looked like while outside. It definitely took a nice shower out there for about a hour and a half. But after a quick towel off after coming inside, the camera was none the worse for wear. The only thing I had to do was go over the front element of the 24-70mm with a brush and Lenspen to clean off the moisture stains and residual dust. Heft-wise, I was pleasantly surprised. Overall weight with the 24-70mm wasn't too bad. I never thought it to be too heavy while in use. I expect this to be different though with a beefier lens like the 70-200mm f/2.8 IS. I bolted that on last night and yeah, it was a damn heavy combo.
It wasn't all roses shooting with the 1D3 though. For one, I probably won't ever use the vertically-oriented set of controls (nor will I ever buy a battery grip for the non-1D bodies) because I switch focus points using the little joystick. While this works fine in the regular horizontal position, the joystick is pretty much unreachable when shooting vertically unless you have massive hands. Then there's the lack of auto-ISO which I've gotten used to on both the 5D2 and 7D bodies. Yes, changing the ISO is pretty simple but still, I've gotten lazy. ;-p And also there's no way to save multiple custom shooting modes on the 1D3. And then chimping on a 230k dot 3" LCD is really a huge step down from the standard 920k units nowadays. Everything looks so murky comparatively.
As for the image quality, out of the camera, the images from the 1D3 at higher ISOs look noticeably less grainy than the ones from the 7D as expected. Other than that, I haven't noticed much else different between images from the two bodies. The only remaining aspect to compare would be the AF system, something that I haven't had the chance to try out yet. But so far, I don't think that a 1-series body would be the best fit for me. Right now the only thing I'm sure of with the 1D body is that I can take it out into pretty much any environmental condition without any hesitation whatsoever. The 5D2 and 7D weather-sealing may be just as good as the 1D bodies but I still feel more hesitant to bring those two out in the rain. Being able to hold the camera normally while shooting vertically would have been a plus but with the joystick location the way it is, that's pretty much not an option for me.
So for the time being, my dream camera still remains the full-frame sensor body of the 5D2 with the AF system of the 7D. C'mon Canon, that's not too much to ask for is it? =p
Recently dug up some old anime LDs (yes, those big shiny discs) from over a decade ago that was stashed in our storage closet. Surprised that they've survived in quite excellent condition. Too bad they're worth next to nothing but does still hold some nostalgic value for me at least. ;-) And also, too bad that I haven't owned an LD player in about a decade. =p
First up, the ol' Kimagure Orange Road TV Series box sets. I remember these being a big deal back in the day. Here's a good writeup on exactly how this set came about. Yes I was amongst the initial 1000+ fans to petition AnimEigo for this set. So imagine my chagrin when they totally f'ed up my name in the credits. No, I'm not still bitter about it. ;-p
Back in the day, Maison Ikkoku and Kimagure Orange Road were my most-loved series. Since then, Maison Ikkoku has remained my number one while KOR has fallen by the wayside. I only recently noticed that AnimEigo had also released a DVD box set for it that's also out of print but I can't bring myself to spend anywhere between $400-750 for it as they seem to be going for on eBay.
Those who know me know that I've been a pretty avid anime fan since my college days. There was a lull during my first few years in the workforce when it fell a bit by the wayside but it began again in full force these last few years thanks to the ease of obtaining torrented fansub content and the explosion of commercial releases available through retailers and Netflix. While I have watched a significant chunk of series in the past almost twenty years, I'm definitely nowhere near the top.
When it comes to my personal collection of commercially available titles though, I have a pretty meager set (see photo above). I collect commercial anime titles the same way I collect regular movie titles. It's gotta be something that I believe I'll actually want to go back and watch numerous times years and years down the line. Or it holds some sort of sentimental value to me. Cause let's face it, there's way too many titles out there (past, present and future), and not enough time to watch most of them more than once. Unless you're independently wealthy and don't have to work for a living. Plus with services like Netflix around, that takes care of the huge chunk of good, but not great titles that I may want to see. Sure, I may not be fully supporting the US anime industry (which has apparently been about to go belly up for the past decade now =p) to my utmost ability but I'll leave that to the current crop of young otaku who don't have a wife and kid to feed. Along with two other, even more expensive hobbies. ;-p
So last year I took a photo of all the bags I currently had in my possession at the time. Recently I've rejuggled a good portion of my lineup so I figured I'd take another shot. The good news is I much prefer this current crop of bags than the collection from last year. The bad news is, I actually increased my bag lineup by one. Even I know that eight bags is a bit much. =p
Looking at last year's group, the only leftover from then is the Waterfield Cargo bag (top left corner), which remains my daily bag, and the Bumbakpak Hybrid (top right corner). You don't see the Bumbakpak in this year's shot because I completely forgot about it when I was taking the photo. The Bumbakpak is actually one I tried to sell but no one wanted to buy. Not even on eBay. =p
As for the others, the two Crumpler photo bags were sold off and replaced by a single newer version. The small blue/black custom Timbuk2 messenger bag's strap buckle broke and was replaced under warranty with the brand spankin' new red/black bag. The Tom Bihn Buzz sling bag was eBay'd off and the Lowepro Classified 200 AW photo bag was craigslisted to make way for the ThinkTankPhoto Retrospective.
New for this year are the two backpacks: the ThinkTankPhoto Shape Shifter and the Timbuk2 Grubstake. The Shape Shifter is what I brought with me on last year's trip to Taiwan. And I really like it. The only negative being that you can't store a body w/a lens mounted on it. Everything is separated into their own individual pouches. The Grubstake is actually my newest acquisition and the reason I got it is because I can actually cram the Crumpler Six Million Dollar Home photo bag into it. Along with my 15" MacBook Pro. Why in the world would I want to do that? Well, during our Taiwan trip last year, I had to stow the Crumpler into our check-in luggage so that I'd have a camera bag to use while out & about. The Shape Shifter is great for transporting your gear long distances but I wouldn't use it as a daily bag. Now with the Grubstake, I can put my camera gear into the Crumpler and then stuff the Crumpler down into the backpack, freeing up a decent amount of space in our other luggage. It's a pretty tight fit however. So if airport security wants me to take everything out to show them why I have a bag within a bag, it's gonna be a bit of a hassle.
The other two new bags are both photo related: the ThinkTankPhoto Retrospective 30 and the ShootSac. The Retrospective is the largest camera bag in my arsenal. Used when I need to carry more than one body. The ShootSac is primarily a very light and non-bulky lens holder and it performs its function quite well. Use it mostly when I'm going somewhere where I know I'll want my camera out and ready to shoot at most times so don't need to bag it.
Anyway, I'll probably do individual write ups on the bags in the future so that's it for now. =)
With my iPhones I tend to run through a couple of different cases throughout their lifetime. As is typical of every iPhone release, available cases during launch was pretty minimal. It was a little different this time around as Apple actually released their own bumper "case" for the iPhone 4. I passed on it though which apparently was a good decision. So I was fully expecting to be case-less for the next few weeks until the iPhone 4 cases started rolling in.
And then I walked into my local Best Buy store. Their iPhone 4 accessory section was pretty sparse. Not only because of the still early relative lack of options but because it was practically picked clean. Fortunately I was able to scrounge up one of these ifrogz LuxeLean cases which pretty much encapsulates everything I usually look for in an iPhone case.
Now my taste in cases, as in bags, runs to the minimalistic/barebones side. Since I don't make it a habit of dropping things, full on protection is not what I'm looking for. All I really want is a thin polycarbonate shell that hugs the gadget and protects the back and sides mainly from scratches. The ifrogz LuxeLean pretty much fits this to a T.
Most of the time, you can find these no-brand thin & slim cases on Amazon for like $10 or less. But that's usually a couple of months after launch and you pretty much get what you pay for. The ifrogz is a step up from those cheapo cases as the interior of the case is also colored (not the case sometimes if you go real cheap on Amazon) and they also put in a soft lining in the interior that covers a good portion of it. This protects the back of the iPhone from tiny dings and scratches that often occurs from small dust particles that can still make their way in-between these types of cases and the back of the phone.
Top and bottom protection is quite minimal, limited only to the corners really. The disadvantage is that most of the top and bottom are exposed and unprotected but the advantage is that most accessories that plug into the bottom port will work unimpeded with this case.
The right and left sides are mostly covered, with a large cutout for the mute and volume controls. They've also gone with a vented look for the sides which one may or may not like. I don't particularly mind it plus I think it's a good idea anyway since the iPhone 4 runs noticeably warm after extended use so any cooling effect will be helpful.
The back is fully covered with just the form-fitting opening for the camera lens and flash. And the ifrogz logo is small and unobtrusive towards the bottom. The feel of the case is nice and smooth. They call it the "Luxe Velvet Soft Finish." Um, sure. It feels nice to the touch but it's definitely not rubbery/grippy so if you've got naturally slippery hands, be warned.
Besides the green color that I got, this particular case also comes in iron and pink. Iron will most likely be the most popular but I rather like the green as it matches my Waterfield Cargo bag. =) Anyway, for those who prefer this type of iPhone case, the ifrogz LuxeLean will do the job quite nicely.
Recently I decided that our cookware and cooking utensils needed an upgrade because we ruined two of our ancient non-stick frying pans during our last camping trip. In the process of researching kitchenware, I discovered that knives, in particular, had some pretty sweet products available. Unsurprisingly, my collector's mentality kicked in and I started delving deeper into the world of Japanese kitchen knives.
For the past 8 years we've been using an el cheapo knife set that consisted of one 8" chef's knife and three slicers of assorted lengths (4", 6" 8"). I think we resharpened them once throughout their lives with a sharpener that my mother gave us. Part of the handle on one had even broken off. Suffice to say, we weren't particularly picky about our kitchen implements up to this point.
Taking advantage of two Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons that were available to us, my first acquisition was a Shun Classic 7" Hollow Ground Santoku. I figured, hey, all purpose knife, that pretty much fits our (or more specifically, Erin's) needs to a tee.
The Shun Classic, despite being Kai's intro line, is constructed quite well. At least to my amateur eyes. Way above the nameless brand we had before for sure. The thick, round, "D shape", Pakkawood handle feels great in my hand and the blade came out of the box impressively sharp. The Damascus look on the blade is subtle and attractive and the hollow ground indentations running along the length of the blade is supposed to minimize stickiness when slicing through food.
It may be surprising to hear for those who know me but I don't follow Apple rumors very much. So their newly announced Magic Trackpad came as a complete surprise to me. At first I was like, seriously? A trackpad accessory for the desktop? I had always been under the impression that trackpads were just a tolerated pointing device who's longevity was due to being the de facto controller on laptops. Personally I don't mind using trackpads but it never occurred to me that people would want to use them outside of a laptop.
Long time readers will remember that I'm traditionally a trackball guy. But I'm also willing to try new things. So it was that a Magic Trackpad found itself at my doorstep a few days later. As you can see, it's quite possibly the blandest looking Apple product I've ever unboxed. Just a flat grey slate for the most part.
It does match quite nicely with Apple's wireless keyboard. Though oddly enough it's just a tad bit longer front to back than the keyboard. You would think since this is Apple they'd go that extra mile (or centimeter in this case) and make it a perfect fit. Not sure what happened there.
Physically it's also a little smaller than my existing Expert Mouse. Well, significantly smaller if you take the trackball's attachable wrist rest into account. And much thinner too obviously. And the best advantage over the trackball: being wireless. Unfortunately, Kensington et al. have so far still refused to come out with a new wireless trackball.
Now when I first started using the trackpad, I started off having my hand positioned directly over it like you see above. Thumb and index finger down on the pad, all the other fingers held over it to be brought down when needed. This quickly proved to be a pretty poor way to work with the trackpad as holding the fingers up for extended periods of time gets tiring.
So after some experimentation, I'm now using this hand position above. Basically the hand gets moved to the right so the ring and pinky fingers which are the most unused get to rest on the table instead of the trackpad itself. Another workable position has my pinky gripping the right edge of the trackpad. The middle and ring fingers still hover over the surface mostly but for some reason, with the pinky having something to grip and thus the hand spread out wider overall, the hand doesn't feel as tired over extended periods as before.
Interestingly, if you rest all your fingers on the trackpad and move only one, two, or three at a time while keeping the others immobile, the trackpad still works as usual. This also works on my MBP's trackpad but was never something I had to consider trying because the trackpad on the MBP is small enough so that you can rest your usually unused fingers on the body frame around it.
I'm still unsure as to whether or not the Magic Trackpad can replace my trackball for everyday use. Scrolling, which I do often, with the trackball is much easier although I prefer the three-finger swiping to go back or forward a page on the trackpad. Left and right button clicking is about even, with the trackball maybe coming in ahead because of dedicated buttons for each action.
Just for comparison, the above shows my usual hand position when using the Expert Mouse. Thumb on left click button, index controls the trackball, middle finger rests on and controls the scroll ring, ring finger just rests on the frame inactive, and pinky presses the left click button if needed. Index finger also stretches over to click the top left and right buttons when I want to move forward or back a page. It's a much more comfortable device overall because every finger can rest somewhere on the trackball without inadvertently affecting things. With the trackpad, I discovered that whenever I was working in Photoshop, I'd often accidentally zoom in or out of the image I was working on as that app seems to not ignore the thumb contact correctly at times.
So for me, while the Magic Trackpad wins on size, portability, three finger swiping and lack of wires, the trackball does scrolling better and is just more comfortable overall to use which I think is a more important consideration for such a constantly used computer accessory. I'll keep using the trackpad primarily for another week or so to see if anything changes.
So a few weeks back I ordered this Incase Snap Case for the iPhone 4 through Apple's "We're Sorry You're Making Such a Big Deal Out of Nothing" program. ;-p It's not that I really needed it, having already gotten the ifrogz LuxeLean case beforehand which still works just fine. But who am I to turn down a free case? At the time it said shipping would be in 4 weeks so I think this came a little early.
As far as iPhone cases go, this one is pretty typical of the clear acrylic form-fitting cases I've had in the past with my previous iPhones. Compared to the ifrogz, as far as I can tell, it may be just a smidgen thinner but seriously, just splitting hairs at this point.
The left side of the case is a bit more encased compared to the ifrogz with separate cutouts for the ringer/vibrate switch and volume buttons. The case is thin enough so that operating these controls doesn't take too much getting used to compared to having just the phone uncased. Not sure why they embossed the "Made in China" on the inside of the case but that doesn't affect anything. The right side of the case I didn't bother taking a photo of cause it's just straight covered plastic with an embossed Incase logo towards the bottom.
The top and bottom of the case is pretty much exactly the same as on the ifrogz case. No surprises here. Easy access to all the controls, plugs and jacks at the expense of not so thorough protection.
And as you can see the back is pretty nondescript. The cutout for the camera lens + flash is not as form-fitting as on the ifrogz plus they encircled the edges of the cutout with what they call a "Flash Ring." Basically they just made the edges black so it cuts down on possible glare caused by the flash reflecting on the clear acrylic and bouncing back into the lens. I'm not a heavy flash user so not sure if this is truly useful or not but sounds good at least. =p You'll also notice from this shot of the back that like all clear acrylic cases, this one also picks up fingerprints quite easily.
You do get a bonus with this case though: a little dual-sided clear acrylic stand. Incase tends to include these little stands with their thin cases. I remember having a S-shaped black plastic one for the iPhone 3GS when I got their perforated case. They're cheap and kinda dinky but convenient and perfectly functional in a pinch.
As I mentioned it's dual sided so you can place the iPhone in at one of two angles. Not entirely sure what exact angles they are but something like 45 and 60 degrees would be my guess. And they only work with the iPhone placed horizontally. The iPhone will tip over backwards immediately if you place it vertically in the 45 degree angle. With the 60 degree it'll work but once you put any pressure on the phone it'll tip over. So just keep it in the horizontal position.
So, in a nutshell, this Snap Case is good if you're a real basic, no frills kinda guy. It's light and thin and gives you just the most basic of protection, mostly just against scratches. If you like to show off the look of the iPhone but still want some protection on it, then this case will be good for you. Like all clear acrylic cases though, I predict that the back of this one will wind up getting all scratched up after a couple of weeks. Better the case than the iPhone itself obviously but these types of cases don't usually retain their pristine forms for very long. Plus you'll have to wind up removing the case every now and then to clean out the tiny dust particles that will inevitably work its way in-between the back of the case and the iPhone itself. If you don't do this often, some of those particles can wind up scratching the iPhone. That may be less of an issue with these new iPhone 4s and their glass backs but it was definitely an issue on the previous iPhone 3GS.
Compared to the ifrogz LuxeLean, I probably favor the ifrogz a bit more at this point. The ifrogz, because of the colored paint has a more grippier feel to it than the Incase which can be quite slippery if you're not careful with it. And I like the felt-like backing that covers the interior of the ifrogz. That pretty much traps any wayward dust particles that make their way into the case and prevents them from moving around against the back of the phone. But besides that, both cases give you pretty much the same amount of protection with the least amount of size and weight addition.
A month or so ago I came across a posting on Friendfeed listing a couple of smartphone-friendly gloves. The Agloves were the only ones that seemed remotely interesting to me so I sprang for a pair. At $18, I figured it wouldn't hurt the wallet too much if they didn't pan out. Plus they give a pretty decent 90 day test period in case you really hate them for some reason.
When they arrived, I was pretty surprised at how thin they are. Made out of 60% polyester, 29% nylon, 7% silver nylon, 3% spandex, and 1% acrylic, they are a pretty snug fit too. The Northeast being in the midst of a cold spell the last couple of weeks, I was pretty apprehensive as to how they'd hold up under the mid 20s to high 30s weather we were having. After a week or so of use, I can say that they're warm enough if you're a regular urban commuter. The palms get chilly quickly once it hits around 30 degrees (Fahrenheit) or below but shoving them into your pockets or just closing your hands into fists solves that issue for the most part. For temperatures ranging from the mid-30s and above, the gloves are perfectly fine in the warmth department. At least for me. Obviously everyone's temperature threshold will vary. Oh, and you probably won't want to get into a snowball fight with these. =p
As far as how they work on the capacitive touch screens on iPhones and other smartphones, they work perfectly as advertised. It's like they're not even there. Really great stuff. I've also grown quite fond of the thinness of the gloves as they're the only gloves I've ever had where I could actually shove them into my pant pockets and root around for things by touch. Normally winter gloves are too bulky to even get them into the pockets or doesn't give you enough of a feel to them.
Prior reviews I've read all sort of ding them on the blandness of the style. I don't mind much since most gloves I tend to buy are either black, dark grey, or dark brown anyway. =p When I purchased my pair, they only had the M/L size in stock and I find them to fit quite well with just a little bit of slack towards the wrist area on the back of the hand. As of now, they seem to have all their other sizes in stock as well finally. One advantage to their thinness is that if you do need extra warmth, you can always wear a thicker pair of gloves over them.
So if you're an avid smartphone user and urban commuter who wants a pair of easy to use and light-weight gloves, then definitely give Agloves a look. If the majority of your exposure to the elements consists of you running from your home to the nearest mass transit station and then to your workplace, then the relative lack weather protection provided by these won't be a big deal.
Now prior to getting the Agloves, I have been using a pair of old Dot Gloves since last winter. The old knit version which consisted of two metal "dots" sewed into the thumb and forefinger of each hand. Style-wise, these were nothing to write home about either although they did eventually wind up being available in a lot more different colors than the Agloves. Being heavy knit, they also provide a lot better weather protection than the Agloves but at the cost of added bulk.
However, where the Aglove trumps the old Dot Gloves is in actual functionality. Even though the Dots Gloves fit me just fine, in order for the "dot" to work reliably and comfortably, you generally want it centered on the fingertip. But more often than not it shifted about so you really had to make an effort to recenter it to the proper position. And then in use, I always had to be a bit more deliberate in my touches for it to work reliably. And doing that really slowed me down. Plus I could also never get any sort of pinching motion between the thumb and forefinger to work reliably.
For now I still keep both pairs of gloves in my winter jacket pockets since they're both really not all that bulky, particularly the Agloves. I use the Agloves more since they're a lot easier to use but will break out the Dot Gloves if it turns out to be a bit chillier than the Agloves can handle. After being alerted to the new iteration of the Dot Gloves in this review, I placed an order for one of their new lambswool "iPhone Gloves." A couple of weeks wait time unfortunately but once they do come in I'll compare them to the Agloves. My guess is the old Dot Gloves will be hitting the trash can soon after.
One of my absolute favorite anime series of the last two years is Tentai Senshi Sunred. Two seasons of short (~10 min.) episodes packed with hilarity that's right down my alley. The series is basically about a slacker ex-Power Ranger (Sunred) and his "mortal" enemies: General Vamp and the evil monsters from his local chapter of the evil organization, Florsheim. However, the monsters all have day jobs and fit into society like regular people and Vamp makes a better neighbor than Sunred does.
Despite each episode being only about 10 minutes each, they're able to throw in a couple of themed skits throughout. One of the main ones being "General Vamp's Quick Recipes" which is pretty self explanatory. So I figured what the hey, it's a new year, I might as well give 'em a shot. So tonight I made recipe #1: Simple Tarako Spaghetti.
I wound up using thin linguine since that was the only pasta we had on hand. And topped it off with a bunch of shredded nori pieces (that also had dried bits of tarako in it). Turned out quite well although I've already been a fan of tarako spaghetti. But it's really quick and easy (4 ingredients and 15 minutes of your time). Definitely something even Sunred could make. ;-p
The shredded nori I used is quite good by itself as well. We polished off the rest that came in the little packet. Most of the time you'll find nori in rather large sheets and packs but since it's not something we usually eat, I managed to find this smaller packet in the rice toppings section of our local Mitsuwa.
So General Vamp's Quick Recipe #1 certainly lives up to its name. Quick, simple and tasty. Probably not the most nutritious of dishes but it will fill an empty stomach just fine. I give it an 7 out of 10. =)
After last week's successful attempt at Vamp-sama's Simple Tarako Spaghetti, I got ready for recipe #2.
Now this one I wasn't looking forward to at all. I'm not a fan of kimchi for starters. And I'm even less of a fan of jyako. But we always have a package or two of jyako in our fridge since Erin loves frying them up with some scrambled eggs as a calcium supplement for Devon. So I bit the bullet and bought a small jar of kimchi from Mitsuwa. The plan was to just make a small portion in case it was as un-palatable as I was expecting. I do love sesame oil though so it at least had that going for it. ;-p
Pretty much zero preparation is needed for this dish. Frying up the jyako in the sesame oil was heavenly (again, LOOOVE sesame oil) and then dumped in the kimchi. Stir fried in our little wok for a few minutes before dumping in some water. I think adding enough water to cover the kimchi is way too much water so next time I'll be adding much less.
As for the final result... Surprisingly, this dish was really good. Goes awesome with plain rice. Couldn't believe it. Polished off the entire portion I had made and was left wanting more. I think if you wanted to meat it up a bit you could probably throw in some thin pieces of pork instead of or in addition to the jyako. But yeah, I was pleasantly surprised at how nicely this one turned out. Final verdict, an 8 out of 10. =)
As I mentioned in my previous post on smartphone-compatible gloves, I had ordered one of the new iPhone Glove by Dots Gloves which was backordered for a couple of weeks. Surprisingly it showed up quicker than I was expecting so I got to try it out for the past two weeks in this wonderful NYC winter weather. =p
This new lambswool style feels a bit thicker and stiffer than the old knit version that I previously had. Might soften up after age and more frequent use. Something I noticed immediately was that it felt snugger in the fingers than before. Also, there seemed to be a good amount of extraneous thread and knit inside that my fingers would keep getting snagged on when putting them on. So I turned them inside out to check it out.
What you're seeing in the photo above is the point where the palm and fingers connect. Not having owned wool gloves before, I'm not sure if this is normal with them or not but you can see the one big red loop in the center and two smaller silver loops to each side. And if you look closely you can see two thin red threads running horizontally across along the top underneath the loops. These were what my fingers were encountering whenever I put the gloves on. I wound up yanking the thin red threads out but left the loops all in. Overall it seems like rather shoddy handiwork to me but as I said, I have no other similar gloves to compare them with. Plus, once you get past this, it doesn't affect the overall utility of these gloves.
So, how do these gloves work? Basically the same premise as the Agloves. Silver coated fibers act as conductors between your flesh and the touchscreen. The difference here is that they only weave these fibers in to 3 fingers on each hand (thumb, index, middle) instead of throughout the glove as with the Agloves. As can be seen in the photo above, the silver threads seem kind of sparse compared to the Agloves but they work all the same. Because it's a much thicker glove though, response time seems to be a bit slower and precision takes a hit as well. Still able to work with a touchscreen quicker than the old metal dot version though but not as nimble as with the Agloves.
The one advantage that it has over its predecessor and the Agloves is that it's quite warm. Provides excellent protection against the cold. So when it hit sub-30 degree (Fahrenheit) temps here, these are the gloves I pull out first. So, as predicted, these new Dots Gloves have replaced the old ones as my go-to really cold weather gloves. The Agloves is still champs when it comes to responsiveness and precision but these new Dots Gloves are a good compromise between cold protection and utility.
For pretty much the last decade my main computer has been a laptop, starting from the gorgeous Powerbook G3 Wallstreet, through the titanium Powerbook G4s, and then the aluminum and unibody Macbook Pros. I pretty much figured that I was done with owning Mac desktops as the computing power of laptops seemed to be sufficient for my use and I placed more value in the portability of laptops. That is until I purchased a Nehalem Mac Pro in September of 2009.
Since the Mac Pro requires no small financial commitment, my initial hard drive configuration for it consisted of one Hitachi 7200RPM 1TB drive. To that I added a Western Digital 10,000RPM 300GB Velociraptor and a Western Digital 5400RPM 1TB Caviar Green drive. The Velociraptor was partitioned in two and served as my boot drive; half went to MacOS X, the other to a BootCamped Windows 7. The faster 1TB drive was my main data drive and the green drive served as my Time Machine backup.
My price trigger when it comes to purchasing backup hard drives is $100. At the time of the Mac Pro purchase, that price slot was taken up by 1TB drives. When 1.5TB drives slipped below the $100 line, I bought one to use as a new Time Machine backup drive. At that point, all four of the Mac Pro's internal 3.5" hard drive bays were filled. I then replaced the 1TB data drive with a Seagate 7200RPM 2TB drive as I discovered 1TB wasn't quite enough to cover a year's worth photo & video. This setup worked quite well and remained unchanged until recently when I decided that it was time to bring a SSD into the fold.
I've been using a 128GB SSD in my unibody MacBook Pro since early 2009 so I was well acquainted with the speed advantages. I was hoping that waiting another year+ would bring prices down but alas, that was not to be. The SSDs have gotten incrementally better but they're still locked in to the same price slots as before. The other issue was also where to install the SSD as all the internal bays were full. To that end I had been keeping an eye on the OWC Multi-Mount solution which provides brackets that allows you install combinations of 2.5" or 3.5" drives in the usually free second 5.25" bay that's situated under the optical Superdrive. So my grandiose plan was to pick up a Multi-Mount along with their 120GB Mercury Extreme Pro SSD and pair my existing Velociraptor to it. The SSD would become my sole MacOS X boot disc and the Velociraptor would be dedicated to Windows. I would also add a new 2TB Caviar Green drive to use as my Time Machine backup since that had also recently slipped under the $100 mark.
However, I forgot about one thing: there was only one free SATA port internally. I needed two. The 2009 Mac Pro comes with 6 bays: 2x 5.25" and 4x 3.5", and it has one SATA connection for each bay only. I suppose I could have followed the same route that I had done with my MacBook Pro and removed the SuperDrive but I really didn't want to have to do that. And oddly enough, OWC doesn't have an existing solution to this issue. I chatted with their tech support and the only solution they could come up with was the rather expensive Sonnet Tempo SATA E4i PCI-e card that adds four internal SATA ports. However, besides the price, another issue killed this option dead: namely that hard drives connected via this card are not bootable.
So, I dug around some more on the Interwebs and discovered MaxUpgrades and their MaxConnect system. The MaxConnect system allows you to install up to four 2.5" drives in one of the 5.25" bays. The bracket it comes with isn't as nice-looking or as flexible as the Multi-Mount solution as it only fits 2.5" drives while the Multi-Mount can take either 3.5" or 2.5". But if you're only looking to add two 2.5" drives, the MaxConnect system also comes with a 2-port "bootable" SATA PCI-e card along with the requisite cables to get everything attached and running. Plus the price was quite reasonable. I first contacted them to see if they by any chance were willing to sell just the PCI-e card and cables since I didn't need the bracket but the answer was "no." So I bit the bullet and bought the set.
Cailyn originally had a tentative birth date of June 13. June 15th if we went by her ultrasound checks. We were expecting her to be early since we kept hearing that later children often arrive earlier than the first. But like her brother, she wasn't quite ready to make her début yet. ;-p Erin's doctor was all ready to send us to the hospital to be induced on the 13th because apparently Erin was already about 4cm dilated since the weekend. But Erin, having not exactly the most painless of births the first time around, wasn't exactly gung-ho about the idea. So we waited a couple of more days to see if Cailyn would be willing to come on her own.
Erin had another morning checkup with her doctor on the 16th and not much had changed. Erin had the odd contraction every now and then but nothing imminent. Tired of the waiting, we agreed to head over to the hospital for induction. Checked in at a bit after noon. Not much seems to have changed at Hackensack University Medical Center which is good cause it was already pretty nice to begin with. Because Erin was already semi-dilated, they just started her off with oxytocin. Erin had a different doctor this time because the one that delivered Devon retired from obstetrics after Devon was born. So this new doctor was much more lenient in the use of Epidural and basically said Erin could get it whenever she wanted to. Which was music to her ears and she got it done a few hours into things when she felt she didn't want to have to deal with the pain anymore.
About 5 hours after we had checked in, the nurse checked the dilation, said it was about time and went to get the doctor. Once the doctor came, the entire birthing procedure was a lot more relaxed and quicker this time around. It was just the doctor, nurse and me. I had to help again with pushing her left leg out and keeping her head up during the pushing. But it seemed a little unusual because we would just make small talk while waiting for each wave of contractions to begin. And since there was no pain, there wasn't any screaming. =p So overall, very quiet and low key. I think it was on the 4th or 5th wave (3 pushes each wave) that Cailyn decided to show herself.
Despite the much quicker and easier procedure this time, birthing still remains a rather bloody and messy process. =p I think obstetricians get a kick out of getting the fathers to look at what's going on during the delivery. "Look, look, she's got a lot of hair!" "Good job, look! Her head is out!" As I noted in a tweet afterwards:
And it really is. The miracle of childbirth will never cease to amaze (and scare the hell outta) me. ;-p Come to think of it, I don't understand why anyone would want to film their kid's birth. Seriously, no one wants to watch that. =p
Anyway, thankfully, everything has proceeded as well as can be so far since then. Devon looooves his little sister and if he shows any jealousy to the attention that she gets from us, he at least doesn't take it out on her. Grandpa's got a couple of new bruises though. ;-p The two siblings do look remarkably alike as babies though. I assume that will change when she grows. One difference that was very apparent though since Cailyn first emerged is that she has my bone structure while Devon is more like Erin's. She has really delicate and long limbs and fingers and just might wind up being taller than Devon in the future. She's relatively low maintenance for a baby right now, crying only when she's hungry or needs a change. Nothing has really upset her yet to the point where she would cry for longer than a few minutes. But we're all happy to finally have her in our family. =)
Well this project is taking a lot longer than I originally was planning. Blame it on my well developed sense of procrastination. =p But anyway, after an almost 2 year hiatus, I'm back with Vamp-sama's recipe #3.
This particular recipe is definitely super easy. Doesn't even need the use of fire, just a microwave. For awhile I was hesitant to try it because I'm not a fan of raw egg. I know the idea is that the egg gets "cooked" a little bit when it comes in contact with the noodle when you're mixing everything together but since you don't really need to heat the udon up all that much, you're still pretty much eating raw egg. The only other issue I had when throwing this together is that I didn't defrost the udon noodles enough before microwaving them. So the udon was still stuck together afterwards and broke apart into chunks instead of individual strands.
When everything's mixed up together, it's actually not that bad. I over-soy sauced it this time so it came out a little saltier than I like but otherwise it's pretty good. The only other problem with this particular dish is that one package of udon is pretty damn little, especially for an American-sized appetite. And with the lack of anything really of substance to it, it doesn't do very much to satiate hunger. But I guess you can't really beat it in terms of simplicity and low cost. Final score, 6 out of 10.
After last week's simple udon recipe, this week's recipe #4 is even easier, requiring just a toaster.
Not too tough to toast a piece of bread, slather it with mayo and layer a couple of slices of tomato on top. I did it w/a slice of tofu bread and Kewpie lite. The mayo and tomato makes a nice combo and I like the taste but as with last week's recipe, not particularly filling.
So for my second slice I added a couple of slices of prosciutto that I had lying around in the fridge. Could also make do with ham (or any other sliced meat of choice). Prosciutto may be wasted on this particular recipe though since the mayo tends to dominate the distinctive prosciutto taste. Anyway, final score for the original recipe: 6 out of 10.
In anticipation of a family outing to a Great Wolf indoor water park, I once again began pondering what to use for photos in an aquatic environment. In the past I had tried out waterproof compact cameras from Nikon and Olympus and found them lacking. Furthermore, we don't visit water parks often enough to justify putting down the $$$ for a camera that would see use at most once every few years. And they would find little use in a non-aquatic environment too since my phone has pretty much picked up all the photo duties that a compact had at one point years ago. One time I tried to make do with my iPhone in a "waterproof" zip bag. Which turned out not to be so waterproof so you could imagine what happened then. I had also tried out a LifeProof nÃ¼Ã¼d case with my iPhone 5 and unfortunately I don't recall at all how useful it was in action. At least I didn't wind up with a drowned iPhone. That, I would have remembered. Again, not something we use too often.