Saturday, September 25, 2010

An editorial about Olympus

I wrote an editorial concerning Olympus over on Matthew's Reviews. I can't call it a review because there's no camera hardware involved, particularly any that I own. Just my colorful opinion.

The all-new, all-wet Olympus E-5 DSLR

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hating to fly

Orlando Liftoff
I flew up to McLean Wednesday afternoon to attend the 10th SOA e-Government Conference on Thursday. Pack, rush to MCO, catch a long jam-packed United flight to Dulles, then spend the night at a local McLean hotel. Up the next morning at 6:30am to make the opening session at 8:30am. Listen to a rapid-fire series of presentations, lunch, more presentations, then a rushed trip  back to Dulles, just in time to step aboard another long jam-packed United flight, finally home again and enjoy a late supper with my wife. Flying as a mode of transportation has become so unappealing.
Opt to sit farther from your feetWatching the Miles Slide By

Monday, September 13, 2010

Late night Sunday fire

Neighborhood night fire
Fire burning the second story roof.
Orlando Journal

Sunday evening, around 8pm, we had one hellavu thunderstorm roll through my neighborhood. The day had been hot, with the high in the low 90's. I thought we weren't going to get any rain; on hot days like that it usually starts earlier in the evening, usually around 5pm.

I was cooking supper out on the grill, and was nearly finished when the storm really began to intensify. The bolts were striking very close, so close that there was not time difference between the strike and the sound of subsequent thunder.

By 8:30pm the storm was literally right over us. I lost count of the strikes (that is, strikes close around the house). The lightening reached a peak with a house-rattling boom that I really thought had hit the property, if not the house. The lights even flickered, and I lost the network connection between the cable modem and my (now damaged, as it turned out) Linksys wireless hub.

We finally ate and I was cleaning up in the kitchen. That's when my daughter, and then my wife, started to smell smoke. And the kind of smoke that comes from burning plastics or insulation. I started immediately looking for blown smoking electronics, but couldn't see anything. The smell of smoke kept getting stronger. It was at this point I decided to look outside the back, and that's when I saw what I thought was fog for a brief instance, and then quickly recognized as smoke. I panicked and went out front, thinking it was some part of our house or property.

The whole front of the yard and the street was filled with smoke. There was a car with its lights on idling in the street. Right after noticing the car, I noticed the flashing lights from Orange County Sheriff's cars at the end of the street, and then the Orange County Fire and Rescue trucks started to roll into the street. It was about that time that I started to see flames coming up from the two-story house across the street.

Pretty soon everyone on the street was out with umbrellas, looking and commenting. The conversations were all hushed; we realized how lucky we were not to have out house going up in flames. We kept back and let the sheriffs and fire department do their thing. We even had a news string come by and shoot some footage for the late news.

Neighborhood night fire
Line-up of fire vehicles. Three here, a forth around the corner.
It was impressive to see the trucks lined up. The mix of smoke and mist from the rain made photography a little hazy.

Neighborhood night fire
The crane came by a little after the fire was put out. What it
did provide was overhead lighting into the second story.
A shot of the crane deployed over the house. It was a good logistical move to bring it in, since it provided a good solid light source for the other firefighters to work inside the house's second story.

Good news out of all of this was that no-one was hurt. The couple in the house that burned felt the strike even more than we did, and got out immediately. The fire didn't spread, but it did take a while to put it out. The house looks to be a total loss; certainly the upper floor.

Update

A few shots after daylight.

Night fire aftermath
The back half of the upper story roof is completely gone.

Night fire aftermath
The second story window where the firemen entered is
now boarded over.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Why I don't rant something on Linux any more

End of Summer: Evening Thunder Storm on the Lake
Sunset on an era.
I had an interesting comment show up on one of my posts. The reader said, in part:
I know it has been a while since you ranted something on Linux...
That's an interesting observation. It really has been a while since I ranted about Linux. Before I became a Linux ranter I was a happy user, writing a thread of positive advocacy pieces on Linux, especially OpenSUSE (10.2). I branched out with Ubuntu (7.2) and Mandriva.

But in the end I grew tired of watching my system grow less useful and more broken with each new distribution release. My patience with this madness came to an official end on March 16, 2009, when I finally declared I'd had enough with OpenSUSE 11.1, and Linux in general. To quote Béranger at the time, I defected from Linux back to Windows as a rational act.

Just a few months after that, Linus Torvalds had this to say about Microsoft and hating on Microsoft:
I may make jokes about Microsoft at times, but at the same time, I think the Microsoft hatred is a disease. I believe in open development, and that very much involves not just making the source open, but also not shutting other people and companies out.

There are 'extremists' in the free software world, but that's one major reason why I don't call what I do 'free software' any more. I don't want to be associated with the people for whom it's about exclusion and hatred.
I don't often agree with Mr. T, but on this subject he and I are in violent agreement. I sampled just a taste of that extremism through Boycott Novell. While it wasn't the primary reason for leaving Linux advocacy behind, it was the final straw. It was fine and dandy to criticise Microsoft and Windows, but the extremists would brook no criticism of Linux. In the end, rather than continue to contribute to the controversy one way or the other, I simply put it down and walked away. Life is way too short to waste any portion of it in this way.

There are other reasons to ignore the call of the rant. But first, a little background.

Linux Yesterday

Linux usage can be classified into two broad areas; classical OS usage and embedded usage. Classical usage is further categorized into desktop and server usage. On the server side Linux has, through major companies such as Redhat and Novell, staked out a decent market presence and provides good value when properly matched to the task at hand. Desktop presence, on the other hand, has been pretty abysmal.

Linux had two golden opportunities to establish a much greater presence on the desktop; by taking advantage of the disastrous release of Microsoft's Vista in November 2006, and the netbook wave that came about later in 2007.

Vista, by any measure you care to use, was a colossal flop when it was first released. It was a train wreck that had already left the edge of the cliff; it finally reached bottom with the January 2007 public release. The train wreck left the station in May 2001, five months before Windows XP was released. It was initially known as Longhorn. It was supposed to be all things to all people, end world hunger and bring universal peace. As the years ground along, reality seeped into the collective Microsoft mind. Key features were dropped in order to try to meet a release deadline that kept slipping further and further to the right. In the end, the release was so bad that Intel, HP, and Microsoft were sending accusations 'round and 'round about who was really at fault for the disastrous launch, primarily about the lack of suitable drivers and core graphic hardware requirements to support Aero, the fancy new UI shell.

Here was the opening the Linux desktop community had been praying for. Mighty Microsoft had stumbled, and in a most dramatic fashion. Years late, missing drivers for common hardware already in users hands, and making what some considered outrageous hardware demands, anti-Microsoft/pro-Linux rhetoric was whipped to a fever pitch. With such a golden opportunity laid before Linux by Microsoft, what could possible go wrong?

Much to the consternation of everyone, including Microsoft, the Windows user base voted with their wallets and their feet by - staying put. They stayed with Windows XP, so much so that Microsoft allowed downgrading from Vista to Windows XP, and pushed support out to 2010. Many users, primarily businesses, stuck with Windows XP because it ran all their applications just fine. Consumer systems continued to ship with Vista, and many found that Vista was actually pretty good, especially after Vista SP 1 was released.

So what happened to Linux on the classic desktop? It remained stubbornly in the background. "Dumb Windows users" were excoriated in certain raucous Linux corners for their unwillingness to leave Windows XP and embrace the new order of Linux. But once again, Linux (and to a lesser extent, Microsoft's own software engineers) failed to realize that their world view with regards to Windows XP didn't mesh with the Windows user base, and for the same reason; seeing the success of Apple's Mac OS X. In a rare (some might say ironic) alignment between Linux partisans and Microsoft, both groups believed that the Windows user base was tired of old and busted XP, and were looking for a good excuse to leave it for something better. Microsoft thought they could provide that excuse via Vista, while Linux aficionados thought that any number of Linux distributions would provide that excuse. Both failed to realize that if Windows users were that dissatisfied they'd buy Apple (and many did), or just wait for Microsoft to get the kinks ironed out with the release of the first Vista service pack, a practice that annoys Microsoft.

What many thought would be a golden opportunity for Linux instead turned into dross. Linux couldn't turn the opportunity to their favor because of:
  1. User inertia, especially in business. Why give up something that was a critical part of your business and that was working perfectly fine, and would continue to do so for some time to come?
  2. Vista's continual improvements. Microsoft listened to its users, fixing the problems that beset the initial release. With Vista SP1, Vista finally became the OS it should have been on January 2007.
  3. Increasingly powerful hardware. It is one of the little ironies of history that Vista was slightly ahead of the hardware curve. If Microsoft had delayed Vista's release one more time, the way they wanted, this issue would not have arisen.
  4. Apple. Apple notebooks and workstations, pre-loaded with Mac OS X, became the true alternative to Vista. Apple, which had grown into a finely honed technology jugernaut under the guidance of Steve Jobs, knew exactly what to do and how to do it. The rest became history.
In the end, the "window" of opportunity Vista opened up for Linux to establish itself closed too quickly for Linux to take advantage of. Microsoft resoundingly redeemed itself three years later with the release of Windows 7, which has been selling like gangbusters since its release.

The Netbook Debacle

At the same time that Vista was struggling for respect, the market began to embrace another computing platform, the low-cost and low-end net-centric computer, or netbook. They were supposed to be low-cost alternatives to more expensive laptops, their primary task to surf the web and checking on-line email.

The first netbook was the Asus Eee PC 700. Based on an Intel Celeron M ULV, it shipped with both Xandros and Windows XP pre-installed. Shipping a machine with Linux pre-installed by a major manufacturer was still a novelty; the only other major manufacturer that publicly admitted such was Dell, who shipped Ubuntu on several notebook and desktop PCs.

Linux appeared to get off to a great start, with lots of favorable press over how it fit this new device with the low price, and how Windows was too expensive and too slow. In the beginning this was true; Window's cost/device was too high for the very-low-priced and -margin netbook. But Microsoft soon began offering Windows XP Starter edition for $3/device, essentially countering the key advantage of Linux, it's price. Some manufacturers started to note that the return rate for Linux-based netbooks was four times that of Windows-based netbooks, which stirred further ranker in the Linux cheerleaders. As time passed, many netbook manufacturers started to ship more machines with Windows installed than Linux, especially in the US market. As of August of this year, no notebooks are shipping with Linux installed in the US market; they're either shipping with Windows XP or Windows 7.

But this transition from Linux to Windows on netbooks was happening early on, so fast in fact, that one David M. Williams wrote an opinion piece in December 2008 titled "Dumbass consumers squander netbook experience by rejecting Linux." You read that title right. While Mr. Williams might not be considered an extremist in the same sense as Mr. T defined it above, Mr. Williams certainly gave "aid and comfort" with his polemic piece (read my response at the time). And it has continued to reverberate around the extremist corners ever since. This was a very public acknowledgement of what the Linux cognoscenti think of the greater market that likes and wants to use Windows: "There's nothing wrong with Linux, so there must be something wrong with you."

Linux Today

There are two notable public Linux successes; Linux as a server (specifically Redhat Enterprise Linux), and Android. Android is unique in that it is built on the kernel, with the majority of the higher levels in the stack specifically written and tuned for smartphone use; it is not your typical Linux distribution. RHEL works quietly but effectively in the background, and Redhat is cash flow positive (quite cash flow positive) with revenues that continue to climb higher year after year. Android's success, by any measure, is quite spectacular. It continues to show up on more and more handsets from more and more wireless handset manufacturers, and is even intruding onto other devices, such as tablets and even some netbooks.

What's key to this success? Both are driven by mature corporate organizations. The people in charge are adults. Rational adults. They believe in providing real value to their customers, and listening to their customers real needs. In treating their customers with respect, instead of calling them a "dumbass", or worse. They demonstrate this customer understanding and respect with a customized Linux that exhibits polish and customer-driven features.

Linux has achieved success, but in different markets than the desktop. The extremists and their supporters continue to be marginalized and ignored by those of us who have a job to do. Whether we use Linux or Windows or Apple's operating systems, we all believe in using the best tool for the job based on capability, not ideology.

The reason I don't rant about Linux anymore is that I've realized all this and moved on. And so should you if you're reading this and haven't already.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Labor Day Downtown

Orlando Diary

Today was a holiday, and I spent the morning doing something I seldom get a chance to do; walk around downtown Orlando with my cameras, taking photographs like a tourist. I walked through downtown with another photographer friend, Jim Thompson. He carried a pair of Oly E-510's, while I was a serial carrier; first I carried an E-3 with a 12-60mm, then put that away and spent the rest of my time using an E-P2.

Today was also unique in that it was pretty deserted downtown. There were very few people out and about. It was almost like a ghost town. Great time and great fellowship.

Downtown Orlando Morning
Downtown Orlando, across Lake Lucern from S. Lucern Cir W.

Dr. P. Phillips House
Dr. P. Phillips house.

The Intersection

EP064956

Lymmo Bus Stop

Light morning sleeping in

Blue Door

Passing By

Alley End

This Window Is Permanently Closed

Lines and Reflections


Lines and Curves

Equipment Used
Olympus E-3 with Zuiko Digital 12-60mm ED SWD
Olympus E-P2 with M.Zuiko 17mm, M.Zuiko 14-42mm, Zuiko Digital 40-150mm w/MMF-2, Zuiko Digital 9-18mm ED w/MMF-1

Sunday, September 05, 2010

A little here, a little there

Orlando Diary

Shopping at a grocery a grocery store is a wonderful teaching experience, and today was no example. I had to make a morning run to a local Publix to pick up a few items for breakfast. While I was in the citrus juice section I naturally gravitated towards Tropicana, the "quality" brand.

Tropicana does taste pretty good. But this time, for whatever reason, I paid attention to the printing at the very bottom of the juice carton.

Tropican in the isle, pushed forwardDetail of bottom of Trpicana container
Figure 1Figure 2
When you walk into to a well-maintained grocery store such as Publix, you'll find all products are neatly arranged, lined up in rows together, on their respective shelves. Orange just in two quart containers is no exception. Being square, it's very easy to dress them up by pulling them tightly against the front lip of the shelf edge (figure 1). Note that the lowest 1/4 inch or so of the bottom of the carton is cut off from view (figure 2).

Bottom of Tropicana container pushed backDetail of bottom of Tropicana container
Figure 3Figure 4
You don't appreciate what's happening until you push the carton back less than an inch (figure 3), and you happen to look down and read the bottom edge of the carton (figure 4). That's when you realize it's not two quarts of Florida sunshine in that Tropicana carton (64 fl oz), but 1.8 quarts, or 59 fl oz. Tropicana decided to add to their profitability by putting 5 less ounces in each carton. And there's no size difference between a Tropicana carton and a carton that has two full quarts, such as Florida Natural Premium or Publix's on in-store brand (both currently sell for $2.99/carton).

But what makes this all a little more conspiratorial is that the text that lets you know this is printed in light gray, in small text, and in such a location that it's covered when pushed up against the shelf's retaining edge. Maybe Tropicana didn't mean to have their cartons printed this way, but I find it interesting that Florida Natural Premium, for example, has a larger font, in black, and visible when lined up on the shelf the same way.

This isn't the first time a major company has tried to pull a fast one like this. Similar acts started around 2008 when the economy really started to take a nose dive. Sixteen ounce containers with just 15 (or less), bags of snack food (like potato chips) with more air than content, and other lowering of content while keeping the containers the same size were just another way to stealthily raise prices; keep the front price the same while lowering the quantity in the container. This type of deception goes back millennia to dishonest tradesmen who would hollow a little gold out of coins that passed through their hands, or add filler to cargo to keep more for themselves. In this day, it's just a cynical corporate decision of splitting a price increase; you wind up paying more for less. And that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, no matter how good the orange juice is.

Equipment Used
Olympus E-P2, M.Zuiko 17mm f/2.8

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Saturation

Steve's latest gift bestowed upon humanity
The iPod Touch, version 4
The latest Apple Carnivàle, replete with Stevenote, has come and gone once again. In its wake we've been blessed with new versions of iPods, various and sundry new products, and iTunes version 10, the latest and greatest release, to help tie it all a little tighter to the Apple mothership.

Pardon my Apple apostasy, but the Jobs' Reality Distortion Field (or RDF) doesn't reach as far nor have the potent sway it once held over me. I've lived with enough contemporary Apple technology produced after the Second Coming of Jobs to see the spots on the Apple. Saturation, indeed. I've been repeatedly exposed to the point where I could probably do Steve better than Steve.

And this latest batch of iPods shows a fresh set of spots. Let's count them all, shall we?
  • Apple TV - This second generation is 1/4 the size of the original, and made completely out of plastic. It's lost its Mac OS X roots along with the Intel processor and hard drive. In its place is an ARM-based Cortex A8 class processor, the same as used in all the iPod and iPhone devices. That means iOS running on the device. You no longer have composite outputs, just HDMI only. You have no way to sync. In fact, the only way to get content into the device and on your TV is to stream it from somewhere else, preferably Apple. The idea of owning DVDs or Blu-Ray discs is something Apple wants to kill. With Jobs as a major shareholder in Disney, it's no wonder Apple TV is evolving into little more than a gateway to pay-for-content, where you pay a little every time you access it. The DVD ecosystem, with its buy-it-once-use-it-forever market, is counter to what Big Content, and by association, Steve Jobs and Apple want.
  • Steve giveth, and then he taketh away. After the disaster with the last generation iPod Shuffle, where all the buttons were removed and you were forced to control the device through special Apple earbuds, they put the buttons back. Hurray for Apple. But then Apple took all the buttons off the latest Nano, shrinking the device by 40% compared with the last generation, and covered one side with a touch screen. Usability takes a serious hit. Boo to Apple. But wait, there's more! It looses its video recording and camera capabilities, simple though they may be. Yes, it has a greater storage capacity, but it costs more. What's not to like there (if you're Apple)?
  • Finally we come to the forth generation iPod Touch. Slightly thinner, twice the capacity of my paltry second generation (32 GB vs 64 GB), the latest Retina screen, and not one, but two cameras in the body. The processor has been upgraded to a faster Cortex A8 processor, the same as the iPhone v4, the better chew through battery power. Now about those cameras... The backward facing camera is 960 x 720 resolution for stills, or 0.7 MPx. That's worse than the original iPhone's 2MPx camera. Just about every cell phone on the planet, if it does have a built-in camera, outperforms what Apple deigned to drop into this Touch.
It should go without saying I won't be burning up the roads to my nearest Apple store just so I can purchase my very own St. Steve relic. As time has progressed, Jobs has in fact grown into something of a living parody, with his emaciated looks draped in stylish denim and black. He reminds me now of another parody I once saw in a movie, Edna Mode, a.k.a. 'E', from the Disney Pixar movie "The Incredibles".

Steve Jobs Edna Mode

I really enjoyed The Incredibles, and thought all the characterizations were spot on, especially Edna. It's been size years since its release, but it's still timeless entertainment. Far more so than what's coming out of Steve's other company, Apple. Just as Emma told Mr. Incredible "No capes!", I can imagine Steve telling his minions "No buttons!"


"I never look back, darling. It distracts from the now!"

Enough of this rant. Time to go take some photos.

Having fun and learning something in the process

Orlando Diary

Playing with my EP-2 tonight, I learned to appreciate one of it's nearly infinite number of built-in features: continuous autofocus with tracking. When you partially press the shutter, a big green box with small cross hairs poking out each side will appear in the center of the LCD, over the part of the composition that will remain in focus. Then, with your finger over the shutter, as you recompose the photo by moving the camera, the box will track that area, making sure it still stays in focus. This is very handy for close focusing and/or shallow depth of field with lenses set at their widest aperture.

Lucy Paw Out
Figure 1: Lucy with her paw out. The paw is the center of focus.
For example, in figure 1, I focused the E-P2 on Lucy's extended paw. If I'd taken the photo immediately at close distance, then I would have cut off a good portion of her head. Instead, I simply recomposed to bring her head and paw into the composition I wanted, then took the photograph. The paw remained in focus, with the rest of her fading into a pleasing out-of-focus effect.

Lucy Paw In
Figure 2: Lucy with her paw in. Her eyes are the center of focus.
In figure 2, Lucy decided she was tired of me taking photos of her paw, so she pulled it in. I was able to open the 17mm up to f/2.8, then refocus on her eyes, then recompose the image above.

The E-P2's automatic tracking, where the focus area moves around the screen, is phenomenal and fun to watch all by itself (yes, my inner geek is showing). It makes composition so much easier. Nothing is more aggravating to select focus, then have the point of focus shift behind where you want it when you swing the camera away from the initial focus point. This eliminates that annoyance. I just wish this feature were on my E-3.

So far constant autofocus tracking is very fast, a lot faster than I anticipated, and I believe a lot faster than when I first purchased the E-P2. There was a major firmware upgrade to the E-P2 earlier this year, and it more than likely helped this feature out quite a bit. It's something I'm going to leave enabled for the time being. One set of lenses it won't work well with are going to be any of the regular 4/3rds lenses adapted to the E-P2. This feature is for native µ4/3rds lenses only.

Finally, a little more fun with street shooting. Nothing monumental, just some photographs taken
one evening while out getting supper for the family.

Late Evening Smoothies
Smoothie shop outside of Bubbalous at Kirkman and Conroy.
Ordering at Chipotles
Standing in line to get a couple of burrito bowls
at Chipotles on Kirkman across from Walmart.

All photos were post-processed using Lightroom 3.2. The photo outside the smoothie shop was corrected for perspective. Lighroom's post-processing features are a joy to use as well.

Equipment Used
Olympus E-P2 and M.Zuiko 17mm f/2.8

Friday, September 03, 2010

What do you really want? (part 2)

Galaxy Bar and Patio
Universal Studios City Walk, late night
E-3 w/Zuiko Digital 12-60mm f/2.8-4 ED SWD
Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.
Thomas Edison
I have been, and never will be, a thoroughly satisfied man. Not in my job, not in my hobbies, not in my personal passions. Especially photography.

With photography that dissatisfaction comes in two parts; dissatisfaction with my ability, and dissatisfaction with the camera equipment I use.

The dissatisfaction with my ability will never be completely satisfied. It's not false modesty that forces me to admit that my talent is mediocre at best. All I have to do to be reminded of my limitation is look at the fire hose of talent that streams constantly on the Internet, from amateur to full-up card-carrying pro. I can work on my technique, and attempt to substitute a good looking photo for a photo worth looking at. But I'll never, ever be as good as many that I admire and respect. So I chalk that up and move on.

The dissatisfaction with the equipment with the equipment I use will never be completely satisfied either. It would be nice if I had an infinite bank account that allowed me to purchase the ultimate in bodies and lenses. If I had that kind of expense account, I'd wind up living in a hovel surrounded by hundreds of thousands of dollars in camera equipment. Instead, I have a job and a plethora of adult responsibilities like billions of others around the glove. After paying for the necessities of life, I have a slim bit left for "discretionary" spending, like photographic equipment. A discretionary item that falls towards the bottom of the list of other discretionary items.

And so when I listed my requirements for a new camera in an earlier post, I was attempting to throw money at my problems. When you're staring at the new and shiny photographic gear that is being constantly pumped out, you can be blinded to the fact that what you currently own still exceeds your ability to use it. And the new and shiny gear can exceed your ability to pay for it, especially in these troubling economic times.

Rather than throwing more money at the problem, it's better to learn to use, to push if necessary, the equipment I already have. To channel that dissatisfaction towards improving technique and developing talent, even if it's limited. That's the way to truly approach true satisfaction, to avoid false satisfaction through just material acquisition and failure.

Equipment Used
Olympus E-3, Zuiko Digital 12-60mm
Taken at Universal Studios City Walk at night
ISO 1000, 1/125s, 27mm@f/3.5