Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Olympus E-P3 — Too little, too late

E-P3 body with new M.Zuiko 12mm 1:2 lens
Which camera system you buy and use doesn't matter. Don't get sucked into the religion surrounding camera brands as that will only blind you to a camera's true purpose of being your tool for creating interesting photographs.

That's a hard lesson to learn, and an even harder lesson to remember. I've fallen into the religious brand trap  more than once over the decades, starting with my first camera from Yashica and moving on to Minolta and Olympus OM film cameras. I fell into the trap yet again with Olympus' E-Volt DSLR system. I stayed in the trap with the Digital Pens (my current E-P2). But I'm finally out of the trap. For good. Not just for Olympus, but for all the brands for all time.

Over the decades I have spent thousands of dollars on camera equipment. To be fair I've gotten considerable enjoyment out of the investment. I've even had the opportunity from time to time to earn a bit of cash for my photographic endeavours, which has added to the enjoyment. I've never tried to skimp on camera equipment, knowing from personal experience you get what you pay for. If I couldn't afford a piece of gear, then I went without rather than go down-market. I'm not afraid to spend the cash when circumstances allow.

Investing in the Olympus DSLR system was the biggest initial monetary outlay for camera gear I've ever spent. Starting in late 2008 I purchased a system that included an E-3 with 12-60mm lens, 50-200mm lens, and FL-50R flash. I later picked up a Sigma 30mm, a Zuiko Digital 50mm, and a Zuiko Digital 9-18mm. Because I still had access to the older OM film lenses, I picked up a few MF-1 adapters. I even dropped a few hundred on Hoya Pro filters to go over the front of the lenses (something that Kirk Tuck finally convinced me was pointless). I continued burning up cash paying full price for the E-P2 kit that contained the 14-42mm kit zoom and the VF-2 in late 2009. I even wrote a positive review of the E-P2 and a few more reviews of additional µ4/3rds gear.

All that's changed over the last 12 months. I've documented the reasons in this blog; I won't go over them again. The upshot is I'm far more critical of Olympus camera equipment than I've ever been, and that critical attitude has carried over to every other manufacturer.

The primary change driver is cost. Buying good digital photography equipment is costly far beyond what I spent in years past on film equipment. The reason for the cost is the body and the lenses that make up a given system. With film cameras the method for recording an image, the film itself, is separate from the camera body. If you didn't like the results with one type of film you switch to another until you found the right combination of film and camera that met your needs. Digital is radically different because the method for recording the image, the sensor, is built into the camera body and can't be removed or replaced with different or more capable sensors. If you want to take advantage of the latest sensor technology with digital then you pony up additional cash for the latest and greatest camera body in the system you're currently invested in.

And the lenses need to be designed to work with digital to get the best performance from both. Olympus proved this with their telecentric regular 4/3rds lenses that focus light to be as perpendicular as possible across the entire sensor. All the majors have been producing designed-for-digital lenses recently, and they've all been costing a pretty penny. Combine the high cost of digital lenses with digital bodies and the overall system cost is far higher than film gear even taking into consideration inflation. I'm not interested in repeatedly purchasing the same gear on a periodic basis so I can enjoy the incremental fruits of advancement. Not when it's costing so much.

I focus (no pun intended) on the sensor because it is vital to the overall quality of the images that a digital camera will produce. If the sensor is of lagging quality then no lens or special post processing tools will compensate for that lagging quality. No other special features, such as super-fast auto focus or spiffy art filters will compensate for a poor sensor design.

And that's what bothers me the most about the E-P3. Olympus touts all the advances of the E-P3 over the E-P2, such as super-fast auto focus, nifty art filters, a built-in flash, even a higher resolution touch enabled rear OLED screen. But it's still a 12 MP sensor. The same resolution as my E-P2. Other manufacturers, such as Sony, have met that already with their 16MP APS-C sensors that are being used in the Sony SLT and NEX cameras, and by other manufacturers such as Nikon in the D3x00/5x00 DSLRs. Canon has exceeded that with their 18MP sensor used in their current DSLR lineup from the T3i through the 60D and up to the 7D. An equivalent 4/3rds sensor to the Canon sensor (using the same pixel pitch) would be 14MP. And in case Olympus missed the memo, Panasonic has already released two cameras with 16MP 4/3rds sensors, the GH2 and the G3. And they have super fast auto focus as well.

Speaking of the new fast auto focus. According to the press releases, and based on some comments on the forums that seem to support my understanding of said press releases, it appears that if you want to take advantage of the super fast auto focus then you need the latest and greatest µ4/3rds lenses, some of them new, and some of them re-re-re-releases (such as the 14-42mm kit and 40-150mm zooms). And don't talk to me about the very poor auto focus support for the regular 4/3rds lenses.

That's a tidy little racket to be in; manufacture a new body with new focusing features and make it so that your existing customers, if they want full capabilities, have to purchase the latest spin on the lenses. The kit lens in particular has been released three times already in µ4/3rds format, and if you consider that the 40-150mm was first introduced as a kit built from the all-plastic MMF-2 adapter and the regular 4/3rds 40-150mm lens, then it's been released three times as well. (This part may not be true. See update below)

The two truly new lenses, the 12mm 1:2 and the 45mm 1:1.8, are pretty pricey little things; $800 and $400 respectively. My two regular 4/3rds lenses, the 12-60mm and 50-200mm, were in the 12mm price range. More importantly they were High Grade lenses, and High Grade lenses are environmentally sealed. That was a key feature for me and a feature I've taken full advantage of more than once or twice here in central Florida. The 12mm µ4/3rds is labeled as High Grade, but I've yet to hear if it's environmentally sealed or not. Which really doesn't matter much right now anyway; if the 12mm were sealed, the E-P3 isn't.

Which leads me to another complaint. My E-1 and E-3 are environmentally sealed to match the lenses. I like that a lot and was willing to pay for it. But the E-P3, at $800, is a fair amount of cash to invest in a camera that isn't. Life outside of an air-conditioned office or home is crazy. You get hot and sweaty, and moving from a cool air-conditioned area out into a hot humid exterior results in condensation on any surface. I literally see this on my glasses, and I've seen it too many times on my lenses and camera bodies. I've had to be overly careful with my E-P2, more so than with the E-1 and E-3 in this regard.

Disassembled E-P1 via PhotoRumors.com
And that E-P3 metal body that everybody is enthusing over? I remember that same enthusiasm with the launch of the E-P1 and E-P2, until someone decided to take one apart and discovered that the metal was just a skin over a mostly-plastic interior. $800 for a plastic camera is getting to be a bit much. Especially when I think back to my experiences with the regular 4/3rds 9-18mm plastic-bodied lens and the M.Zuiko 17mm µ4/3rds pancake. The 9-18mm broke completely requiring a replacement ($640 originally plus $135 to fix/replace it), while I'm living with the way the 17mm looks since it's 'merely' a cosmetic issue. I suppose we're going to have to wait until someone pulls an E-P3 apart to see how its built.

I've reached my own personal inflection point with regards to gear. I've got plenty right now, it all functions correctly, so I'm going to continue to use it. To put it on the shelf or try to sell it at a big loss would be cutting off my nose to spite my face. But I do know this; when it comes time to pick new gear, it won't be Olympus. Maybe Sony's rumored α77 or high-end NEX, or Canon's 60D, or maybe Panasonic's µ4/3rds offerings. At least I can walk into a local camera or big-box store and actually handle the equipment. And some of the camera stores will actually let me run some exposures through the demo cameras in the case so I can take them home and see how they look after post processing with LR.

I'm no longer part of the target demographic that Olympus is apparently aiming for. And that's a real shame. I still appreciate the regular 4/3rds system I currently have, especially the lenses. But Olympus has its corporate eyes on µ4/3rds, and they want it to go a particular direction that's not for me. They've left me as much as I've left them. I wish them best of luck.

Update 7/1

Kirk Tuck has a more positive response to the E-P3, "Olympus EP3 is announced. I want one. Available in August."

There are reports now that all lenses, 4/3rds and µ4/3rds, will show some focusing speed improvement with the E-P3. For older MSC (Movie Stills Compatible) µ4/3rds lenses such as the M.Zuiko 9-18mm, it appears that a firmware update to the lenses will bring them up to full capability. That's a good thing to hear, especially if you've gone and invested in the very expensive M.Zuiko 75-300mm zoom lens.

Here's a YouTube video showing the Zuiko Digital 12-60mm being used with the E-P3. The focusing is very, very fast. Perhaps not as fast as the E-3/12-60mm combination, but blazingly fast when compared to the 12-60mm on my E-P2.



These are early days still for E-P3 information. Once again, however, this is a concern that many current Olympus owners have, and Olympus marketing should have anticipated this kind of concern and made absolutely sure it was made very clear from the get-go. Once again I find Olympus marketing absolutely worthless.

Update 7/2

Still on the subject of the E-P3's autofocus abilities comes this review from Robin Wong. Note that Robin was using the µ4/3rds M.Zuiko 40-150mm and 75-300mm MSC lenses. To quote a portion of the review:
I hate to admit this, but the E-P3 is actually faster than the E-5. No, I am not kidding. Nonetheless, do take note that E-5 is only the world’s fastest DSLR if it is used together with SWD lenses such as the 12-60mm F2.8-4.0. All my lenses do not have SWD, but I have never had any issue with the focusing speed, and I seldom miss my focus. E-P3 focusing speed was just on another entirely different level, and it just works so efficiently it was actually scary. Now the scarier question, is the E-P3 faster than the high-performance DSLR like Canon 1DsMK4 and Nikon D3s? That is not for me to answer, but based on what I feel while using the E-P3, it is almost impossible to believe that currently there is anything faster than the E-P3.
This is only one blog, of course, but it fits a pattern of observations from a number of sources that speak highly of the improved, speedy, autofocus implementation on the E-P3.

Update 7/6

I've been reading the responses of those fortunate enough to handle the E-P3 and new lenses. I've responded accordingly based on what would ostensibly be good news. But cynic that I am I have to take it all with the typical grains of salt until I can actually hold and use the gear. You should too.

Update 9/27

Nearly 90 days going in, I've decided that I will purchase an E-P3 along with several primes, a Panasonic 20mm 1:1.7 and the new Olympus 45mm 1:1.8. I've dug enough and handled the camera and looked at the output of the sensor. Why did I change my mind? I'll cover that one day in a new post.

Update 12/12

Strike that, I won't, at least not at current prices. I read Thom Hogan's review of the E-P3. Two observations he made, one about the sensor, and the other about the body being metal skinned, not metal framed. Both those comments as well as the luke-warm theme of the entire review have pushed me quite firmly back over the "do not buy" line. If I'm going to get another Pen, I might as well get a second E-P2 body, which has dropped considerably in price.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Why the Linux netbook really crashed and burned

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols (sjvn to his ardent fans) penned a little missive last Friday (24 June 2011) in which he attempted to blame the fall of the inexpensive (read cheap) Linux netbook on Microsoft (and to a lesser extent on Intel). I'd like to take a few hundred or so words and disabuse him of that fallacy.

A Very, Very, Very Brief History

The netbook was the response to One Laptop Per Child XO-1 and Intel's subsequent response, the Classmate PC. The XO-1 was initially targeted to cost no more than $100 for distribution in the developing world. The Classmate PC wound up costing around $250, a benchmark that was to establish the real low-end for the netbook. Both were announced in 2006 and released the following year.

Asus saw an opportunity and released the first official netbook, the Eee 701 in September 2007. It came with 512MiB of memory, a 900MHz Celeron M underclocked to 630MHz, 4GiB SSD, and Xandros Linux. In January 2008 Asus shipped a version of the Eee 701 with Windows XP. It wasn't until the 900 series that the Intel Atom was introduced.

It should be noted that until the release of the second generation Pineview Atom processors introduced in December 2009, the original Asus Eee 701 with its underclocked Celeron M was the best device as far as user experience is concerned. When Intel offered the Atom series battery life was traded for performance, and performance tanked considerably for the next two years. By the time an Atom processor was released that at least matched the old Celeron M, the netbook's performance reputation was already extensively damaged and never fully recovered.

While there are other netbook offerings from other manufacturers such as MSI and HP and Dell, Asus is the vendor that usually comes to mind when you think of netbooks. They offered Linux originally and continue to offer Linux. But the Windows version is what sells the most for them.

The Real Reason It All Failed

Every version of the Eee comes with either Windows or Linux as the OS. The problem is that most users want Windows, a fact that so enraged David M. Williams for iTWire that in December 2008 he called them "dumbasses" for making that choice. Yes, Microsoft made Windows available for use on the netbooks. At that time, from what I read, it was costing all of $3/netbook for the version of Windows XP for netbooks.

All of this was hashed out in 2008 when it became brutally obvious that Linux was failing as a netbook OS. I wrote about it in January 2009, and as noted Williams wrote about it in December 2008. Where was sjvn when all this was happening?

What I wrote about the failure of Linux on notebooks in January 2009 still applies today:
... I find it highly hypocritical that Linux apologists have for years cried out about lack of choice in the personal computer marketplace, referring ad nauseum to the Microsoft tax (and yes, as have I). It is indeed sad then when given an unfettered opportunity as the one afforded by the introduction of the netbook that the buying public chose Windows, but that's what choice is all about. And if you want it to be fair, then you have to respect it and live with those choices whether you personally like them or not. It's an important lesson one gets to learn when raising children to be adults.

Those millions of consumer's choices cast Linux in a harsh and unflattering light. It isn't Microsoft being evil that's the problem here, it's Linux behaving badly, specifically when you attempt to sell it as a viable Windows alternative to the general consumer. For them it isn't. And until such time as enough Linux hackers climb down out of their ivory towers and come to the startling revelation they need to write for someone else other than a clone of themselves, it never will be. So get over your bitching about being rejected and fix up Linux for them or else STFU. If you can't give consumers what they want then they'll find someone who will. It's ruthless and Darwinian, but that's the real power of choice in action.
sjvn's conclusion that Microsoft was evil in offering Windows for netbooks so that it could knock Linux out is fundamentally flawed. The market spoke, and Linux lost. Add to that the rise of the tablet with Apple's iOS and to a lesser extent Google's Android, and there is no real reason to purchase a netbook anymore. For the majority it's not a matter of price, it's a matter of quality and usability. Unfortunately both Linux (circa 2007/2008) and the netbook hardware it was running on were lacking in both.

Update

Going back to the argument that Microsoft sold Windows XP at a loss to knock out Linux, there's just one small problem with that argument. If it's true then the conclusion is you can't give Linux away. It also fits with the observation from China and elsewhere that many would rather pay for a cheap (read: pirated) version of Windows than run a free version of Linux.

The Ultimate Review

Occasionally there are products introduced to the marketplace that are so bad they inspire creative genius in the reviewer in order to convey just how utterly bad they are. Such a product is the Energizer Candle, and such a creative genius is Rob Beschizza. Originally recorded with a wonderful soundtrack, the transcription that follows can never fully convey the absolute and utter contempt Rob feels towards the Energizer Candle. Like experiencing Shakespeare in the original Klingon, you must experience this review in the original Beschizza.
In more than a decade as a reporter, technology correspondent, columnist and managing editor of one of the world's most lavishly marketed technology blogs, I've never come across a product quite like Energizer's flickering LED candle lights.

This is the worst consumer electronics product I've encountered in my career.
The possibility that Energizer itself developed this supernaturally useless device is inconceivable.

Someone there was perhaps briefed on a market need, procured a supplier, took a look at the results and then thought "Fuck it! We'll sell it anyway."

Its light is simultaneously feeble and ugly, so dim that it illuminates nothing and appears to glow brown.

The flickering pattern programmed into the LED controller is neither predictable nor realistic, but a kind of irritating staggered synthetic fake.

Designed to resemble smoked glass, the exterior shell is an inexpensive plastic the color and texture of semen.

A crude manufacturing seam scored up the side of each mediocre example.

To call these candles at all is an insult to every pig that died to yield the tallow fat that lit the literary and creative endeavours of mankind up until the electric era.

In its absolute and irremediable failure to do anything at all, Energizer's crappiest product of all time represents the final achievement of technology to return us to the barbaric and lightless dawn of civilization.

Transcribed from Rob Beschizza's original review on Soundcloud.

Monday, June 27, 2011

28

My Curious Cat

Today's photos were brought to you by the number 28. The OM-System Zuiko 28mm 1:2.8 to be precise. Adapted for use on my E-P2 with the Olympus MF-1 OM-to-4/3rds adapter and the Panasonic DMW-MA1 4/3rds to µ4/3rds adapter.

Photographing cats is a bit like herding them; you go where they want you to go, not the other way around to find a spot to photograph them. When I want to photograph Lucy I grab my camera, set it up in advance, go where she happens to be at the time and then wait for the right opportunity to present itself. The photo above was taken with the 28mm at maximum aperture, hand held. According to the EXIF data the shutter speed was 1/10 of a second, which accounts for a little softness in the photo; motion blur on Lucy's part as well as mine. But hey, that's life.

What's interesting about the 28mm is that the magnification factor of 2 due to the 4/3rds sensor size makes this the equivalent, in focal length, to a 56mm, or slightly longer than a "normal" lens. A normal lens on a 4/3rds camera (regular or micro) is 22mm.

Colorful Oak

The second photo was taken with the same 28mm lens, except this time I was using the pop art filter. In post with Lightroom with the JPEG I set exposure to -1, recovery to 50, blacks to 50, and cropped it 1:1. The initial colors came straight out of the E-P1. I suppose if I'd worked a bit, such as setting EV -1 then I may not have needed any post processing at all.

I used to work exclusively with JPEG all the time because when I bought my E-300, my first Olympus DSLR, all I had for post processing was Olympus Master. I continued to work exclusively with JPEG when I purchased my E-3. Then in 2009 my sister announced she was getting married in October of that year and she wanted me to be the wedding photographer. That's when I decided I wanted to use raw from my E-3, so I'd better learn another post-processing application.

I downloaded a beta copy of Lightroom 3 in early September and started intensely practicing with Lightroom. The wedding was tough because I don't do weddings. Raw plus Lightroom saved me. It was an inflection point for me. From that point forward I switched from JPEG exclusively to RAW exclusively. It's only been recently that I've even considered using JPEG out of the camera, and only occasionally. Lightroom just does a much better job converting Olympus raw (ORF), especially with noise in the midtones and shadows of an image. And at higher ISOs LR produces a much more pleasing "grain".

Right now I'm pushing myself to use the camera and ignore the manufacturer. I'm not happy with Olympus, rumors or not about impending new gear. Not using the gear I've got because I'm unhappy with the manufacturer is cutting off my nose to spite my face. I can certainly continue to use it all and lord knows I need the practice. So until such time as I have enough money and I've made a decision about what to buy next, I'll continue to use Olympus. Just don't let my use of Olympus be construed as some sort of ringing endorsement of the brand anymore.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Day of Rest

Orlando Gas Price - 26 June 2011

The price of gas keeps dropping in Orlando, almost as fast as it was trying to go up in the first three months of 2011. I have no idea how low it will go, or if it will reverse and start climbing back up again. This was the Hess station on International and Del Verde Way.

The Side

This new building has sprung up like mushrooms along Kirkman just south of the intersection with International. It's typical pre-cast wall allowing for rapid construction. Since I go past this at least once/week, I can assume it's been fairly rapid, but I have no idea when it started. The field on which this construction is going up has been empty for quite a few years. It'll be interesting who moves in. It'll also be interesting to see if any businesses move into the completely empty store block next to the Sweet Tomatoes at that intersection. That's the same block that used to have Books A Million and Micheals stores. With the exception of an Orange County police precinct office, there's nothing in there anymore.

In the Mall

While we were in the general area we needed to stop into several stores at Millenia, T-Mobile to try and get a few phones straightened out and another shop to return a purchase. While waiting for my wife to finish her return I grabbed a photo of the interior. The place seemed active, but we both noticed a few empty stores that have closed up shop.

Technical

Everything taken with the Olympus E-P2. First photo was with the Olympus OM 50mm with adapters, while the last two were taken with the Zuiko Digital 9-18mm regular Four Thirds with adapter.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

At Work with Linux: Fedora 14 and exFAT

exFAT (Extended File Allocation Table, also sometimes referred to as FAT64) is a Microsoft proprietary file system developed specifically for large flash devices, such as USB thumb drives and SDXC memory cards. As luck would have it, I have a Sandisk 64GB SDXC card that I needed to access under Fedora 14.

My primary system is a Latitude E6510 running Windows Enterprise 7. The E6510 has an SD slot on the left front for reading cards up to the limit of the SDXC standard and beyond. Because exFAT's Microsoft proprietary, Windows 7 has SDXC card (exFAT) support baked in. Not so with Fedora 14 (or other Linux distributions) as it turns out. What I needed was to copy about 21GB of data from my Fedora 14 system to the card so I could then mount it on the E6510 under Windows 7. The reasons don't matter so much as I needed that capability.

So I plugged the SDXC card into an old SanDisk ImageMate reader, and then plugged the reader into the Fedora 14 notebook. Sure enough Fedora said it couldn't read the filesystem. That's when I started searching for a solution on the Internets. I quickly found the solution with Google.

Yes, Google. And I don't mean just searching for a solution. Google provides drivers for reading and writing SDXC (exFAT) devices in RPM format for several distributions, including Fedora 14. I downloaded the RPMs, installed the drivers and the utilities, and afterwards found that the card was automatically mounted when it was plugged back in again.

I should note that the Google drivers run as a Filesystem in Userspace (FUSE) driver. This has implications, especially with regard to performance. Read and writes to the SDXC were slow, slower than a native kernel file system. The other issue is cluster size. A 64BG FAT-based file system has very large clusters. This means that small files generate a large amount of wasted space. I copied a large dataset from an ext4 file system that, all told, consumed 21GB under Fedora. By the time it had been copied to the SanDisk drive the amount of disk space it occupied nearly doubled.

In spite of the limitations, having any working capability, however flawed, is far better than having no support at all. Beggars can't be choosers.

Logistically I haven't run into any real problems. I'm going to look into buying a more up-to-date reader and see if that helps to speed things up a bit. Otherwise it works well enough to move on to the next problem to be solved.

At Work with Linux: Automatic Timed Logins

In a post back in February I described how to add automatic account login to a Linux installation. Since that time I've had to the need to enable a delayed automatic or timed login, the reason being that some users of virtual machines wanted to select some other account other than the automatic default account. So I went looking around, and as usual, found the answer fairly quickly.

Linux Automatic Timed Login
File Location/etc/gdm
File Namecustom.conf
Changes to MakeUnder the section labeled [daemon], add the following lines;
TimedLoginEnable=True
TimedLogin=username
TimedLoginDelay=delay_time_in_seconds

Note that these configuration lines are exclusive to automatic login. You can have one or the other but not both. And that's what timed automatic login is supposed to provide, the best of both worlds. With a value of 60 (seconds) most users have plenty of time to login into a alternate account before the timeout is reached for the default account.

Again it should be noted that the file requires root access for editing, so use the recommended method for your given distribution.

For a complete listing of all Gnome gdm configuration options, you should avail yourself of Gnome Library GDM Configuration.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Using E-P2 Art Filters - Pop Art

Bimbo
Bimbo is not a good name for anything in English-speaking countries, not even for bread.

I'm continuing to (finally) explore the E-P2 art filters. Today it's the pop art (#1) art filter. I'd used that filter when I first got the E-P2 in December 2009, on a Christmas walk-about up International Drive. I discovered that with pop art, a little bit goes a long, long way. I didn't delete them, they're still buried on my Flickr account. You can look them up if you want. It was after that exposure that I decided to stick with using the E-P2 as a regular camera. This time, however, I decided to try out pop art to add some visual zing to a dark interior I knew was going to give me flat images.

In this example I took this photo inside a local Wal-Mart food section with the Zuiko Digital 50mm and the Panasonic adapter. I could have used the 17mm and the total package would have been a lot smaller (the 50mm looks positively huge mounted on the E-P2). But I'd used it for some macro work and I'd left the 50 on the E-P2.

The pop art filter works in this instance because it really pulls up the whites, and gives a nice saturated look to all the other colors. This counters the dull lighting I was working with in the store. I could have probably used the vibrant color setting, but vibrant doesn't even come close to pop art.

The one problem with pop art that I've seen is using ISOs at or greater than 800, and shadows. Pop art has a tendency to really pop up chroma noise in the shadows. The photo above was also taken at ISO 800, but the lighting, while dull, was even. If you examine the JPEG at 100%, and look at the lower right loaf of bread on the black stripe, you can see some noise. This example isn't really bad, but some of the examples I took, especially in scenes where there was a wide range of light levels, created a lot of noise that pop art enhanced and made more noticeable.

Another problem with pop art is how it handles reds. Reds are tough enough to capture digitally, but pop art pushes reds towards the orange end of the spectrum.

All in all the pop art filter is one of those filters that should be used in moderation. I actually find the grainy film art filter to be more generally useful than pop art. I wish that Olympus allowed the "stacking" of filters, where the output of one could be fed into another. For example, pin hole would be a nice effect to apply (or experiment with) after using either grainy film or pop art.

Equipment Issues

Back in March, while up in Boston, I wrote about how the front part of my M.Zuiko lens fell off and was lost in the street. I called Olympus, and found out I had to go on their site, fill out a form, and send it in to them (on my nickel). Even though it was under warranty. I went on the Olympus site and didn't find an entry in their drop-down menus for the M.Zuiko lens. The warranty runs out the end of June.

I've decided to just live with it. The lens still works, it just looks a bit crappy with the missing front cosmetic piece. But before I let this go I'm going to document this one more time.

E-P2 w/17mm mountedBusted 17mm
New hotnessOld and busted

I'm having a hard time 'loving' Olympus. It started with how they are handling their regular 4/3rds line. And now gear quality issues, not just with the 17mm, but my regular 4/3rds 9-18mm. It broke just out of warranty this time last year. That was a $600 lens, so I choked down my anger and paid another $135 to have it replaced.

In all the decades I've owned cameras, from all the various manufacturers, including Olympus film and early digital, I've never had gear, and especially lenses, either fall apart or just break under normal use. But I've had it happen to me twice now, once with a late-model regular 4/3rds lens and a µ4/3rds lens.

Why am I complaining about this? Why it it important? Because I owe another site a review on the M.Zuiko 9-18mm. When I write a review I like to give an unequivocal recommendation. And right now, I'm finding it very hard to do that. But I'm writing it and hope to have it finished and shipped off in a few days. I think I'll give a qualified recommendation, documenting my less-than-stellar experiences with other Olympus equipment I own and just let the chips fall where they may.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Using E-P2 Art Filters - Grainy Film Part 2

My route home can take me past UCF south down Alafaya, or east from Corporate across Alafaya to Gemini Blvd, which will carry you past the UCF Arena and the intersection of East Plaza and Gemini. I decided to take the road less traveled through UCF. I turned onto East Plaza, parked, walked around, and snapped a few more photos with the E-P2 in grainy film art filter mode.

Roadway Hieroglyphs

Architecture lends itself to black and white because of the large, straight-edged planes that make up building shapes. The drama is enhanced by dropping exposure by -1 EV. For photos that include blue skies, the skies turn an interesting black which enhances the brighter tones and textures of the buildings themselves.

Books

Monoliths

Future Cameras

It's funny I should talk about future Olympus cameras. I'm "invested" in regular 4/3rds and I'm not too happy about Olympus' handling of their regular 4/3rds line. As in mad as hell. Whatever...

I've not been impressed with the µ4/3rds models they've released after the E-P2. But if I were going to offer any advice about future Olympus cameras, I'd offer the suggestion that all of the art filters be highly configurable by the end users and that sufficient processing power be added to the µ4/3rds bodies so that using any of the filters won't slow up the act of capturing the image.

Technical

Everything taken with the E-P2 and M.Zuiko 17mm with the grainy film art filter. Exposure for all three was set to -1 EV to enhance overall contrast.

Using E-P2 Art Filters - Grainy Film

Olympus art filters, first introduced with the Olympus E-30 in 2009, are no longer anything new withing the Olympus brand nor outside in other brands. Canon and Nikon, as examples, have begun to add similar functionality in their latest DSLR offerings.

My E-P2 (as did the E-P1 before it) comes with eight art filters, one of which (number 5) is grainy film. Specifically it's grainy black and white film, heavy on the grain and heavy on the contrast. I don't normally use the art filters because the effects are not tunable and because of the very slow processing that takes place when they're used. For grainy film the amount of time the camera spends on a single exposure can be as much as 10 seconds. It also has a tendency to really chew through a battery charge.

But every once in a while I decide to play with the art filters, if for no other reason than the fact I paid for them and they sit unused on the camera.

Today, as I was out walking to get my lunch, it felt so hot and still that I decided to use the grainy film, with the exposure compensation dialed up into the positive range, to try and 'capture' the feel of the oppressive heat beating down on me. Some might say this is typical Florida weather, but this is still June, and you usually don't feel this until late July/early August.

Negative Positive

The trees are a small group right across the street from my office building. I've taken photos around here before, but today I stood back and cranked up the EV to +2.3 while looking through the VF-2. I wanted to wash out as much of the underlying grass and background as possible. I wanted an ethereal feeling. It looks almost like it was taken in the winter with snow all around, or a bit like an infrared photograph. I like the ambivalence it projects.

Dark Shadows

The wall was taken at 0 EV. I liked the way it turned out because the art filter brought out the wall texture, which adds a nice touch of detail to the overall photo.

Textures

Just a few feet down on the same wall was this pile of flats stacked in a corner. I tuned the EV down to -1 in order to truly darken the shadows and to bring out more detail in the wood. What is nice is that even though the wall in the shadow is dark, there is still some detail in the shadows to match the details on the light wall.

I love a good strong black and white images, with lots of details in the mid tones. I also like using these as straight JPEGs out of the camera. These were literally taken off the camera's card and uploaded to Flickr. This is similar to my experiences with the HTC smartphone camera, but without the post-processing on the camera. I'm going to start working with the grainy film art filter some more, and start experimenting with the other filters.

Technical

Everything taken with the Olympus E-P2 with M.Zuiko 17mm using the Grainy Film Art Filter.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day 2011

Father's Day

It was a quiet father's day today. Both girls were gone, and it was just the wife and I along with our two yellow Labs and three cats (two of which belong to my oldest daughter). I spent the day mostly cleaning up around the house. My wife and I had a late lunch and then splurged a bit on frozen yogurt at Tutti Frutti's at the Mall of Millenia.

Father's day gifts were an eclectic collection of items, from the camera cufflinks for my dress shirts to the heavily-marked down remote-controlled electric helicopter to new pajamas to replace the ones I've had so long that the stitching is literally falling away from the seams. My wife is an excellent seamstress, but even she said she couldn't fix them. She told me to quit being so cheap and buy new ones. She uses father's day as an excuse to force me to buy new clothing to replace what I've hung on for too long.

And I loved them all, as I've loved every single gift I've gotten over the decades from my wife and children.

Late Evening Plumbago

The other gifts that came today were the plumbago that grows around the yard and the sundowns that grow more dramatic as the summer progresses. In the summertime the thunder of late-afternoon thunderstorms heralds the end of the day. That's when I grab whatever camera is lying close at hand and step out back before the rains start to fall.

Late Evening Drama 2

Technical

Everything taken with the Olympus E-P2. The upper photo used the M.Zuiko 17mm while the two lower used the Zuiko Digital 50mm Macro with Panasonic DMW-MA1 adapter.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Short History of the Personal Computer

While celebrating their 100th birthday last week, IBM raised something of  a stink when they claimed they'd gone and invented the personal computer.

Mr. Cringely pointed out the ludicrousness of IBM's claim in one of his articles. The only problem is Mr. Cringely didn't give all of the details he should have in his article. The truth of the matter is far more nuanced than either IBM or Cringely care to acknowledge.

The simple graphic to the left is my hopeful attempt to put into some kind of chronological order all the interesting 8- and 16-bit microprocessors that were introduced and the personal computers that were built using them, very successful personal computers introduced before the IBM PC.

I chose to limit the timeline's span from the introduction of the Intel 8080 microprocessor to the introduction of the Commodore 64. Missing in this timeline is the introduction, in 1979, of the Motorola 68000. That processor wouldn't be used in personal computers until the original Mac, Atari ST, and the Commodore Amiga starting around 1984 and moving forward from there. These are the microprocessors and the resultant systems that played notable roles in the personal computer revolution from 1975 to 1982.

I've tried to use color to designate which CPU's were used with which personal computers. Blue and light blue designate the Intel 8080 and the Altair 8800, which Cringely designates as the first personal computer. Red is for the 6502 and all the computers that were built using it (or one of it's derivatives, such as the 6510 in the Commodore 64). Green is for the TI 16-bit chip and it's one use, the TI-99/4A. Gray is for the Z80 and the personal computers built using it. The dark blue is for Intel's 8086 CPU and the IBM PC.

Many want to pay homage to Ed Roberts and his Altair 8800. I remember the 8800, especially the kit I received way back when. I eventually got it up and running, but I was not impressed, either with the design or the final product. I eventually sold it off to another geek who was more interested in it than I was and moved on to the 6502 via the KIM 1.

Later I acquired the TI-99/4A and then the Commodore 64. I touched my first Apple II at a friend's house in 1977, and my first IBM PC at the First National Bank of Atlanta in 1982, right before I left for DCA.

All of the computers I acquired or worked with after the 8800 were full-fledged personal computers. They all came bundled with software that allowed the owner to begin working immediately with hardware. Ed Roberts might have technically been the first, but the first practical personal computers had to wait until two years later when in 1977 (a "golden year") the Apple II, the Commodore PET, and the TRS-80 were introduced to the world.

I included the Commodore 64 because it eventually became the best selling personal computer of all time. And I should point out to IBM and others that IBM eventually lost out to the other PC makers, selling what was left of their PC division to Lenovo in December 2004.

The history of the personal computer is a lot more complicated than either IBM or Cringely attempts to tell. A lot more complicated.

Update

It's Cringely, not Cringley. Per the Man Himself.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Correction: Gas Prices in Orlando

Gas Prices - 17 June 2011I made the prediction back in the first half of this year that gas prices would hit $4/gallon, if not higher. At least in Orlando.

Today, I filled up and paid a "mere" $3.48/gallon at this local BP. I haven't seen prices this low since March.

I made the mistake that too many make, and I should have known better. I took a number of data points, graphed them, saw the trend, and assumed that I could extend that trend forever. And thus I predicted $4/gallon gas, and worse.

That's the same type of reasoning that got us into trouble in the Internet Bubble of 2000, and the Real Estate Bubble of 2006. Except it was for the opposite reason, that everyone assumed the money-generating trends would always be going up. Nothing goes up forever, or down forever.

It's still costing a lot of people a lot of money to buy something as basic as gas. It's already pushed past $4/gallon in other parts of the country.

That cost is impacting everything in the supply chain because we're a society that depends on fossil fuels. Prices on everything are going up. It's having an effect on the overall economy. Hiring has slowed and in many areas it's reversed. High fossil fuel costs are slowly grinding us down.

With the nuclear disaster that unfolded in Fukashima we're going to continue to depend extensively on fossil fuels in spite of the promise to use more 'green', 'renewable' sources of energy. Just like with the Internet Bubble and the Real Estate Bubble, we're now experiencing the collapse of an even bigger (worldwide), longer lasting (over a century) bubble, the Cheap Energy Bubble. It's going to be the worst bubble collapse of all.

Technical

Olympus E-3 with Zuiko Digital 12-60mm. Post-processed with Lightroom 3.4.1, the latest update. I'm not too crazy about the latest update. For one thing, it's slow. Very slow. Much slower than 3.3. I may back up to 3.3, since what it was supposed to fix didn't apply to me.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Like a Summer Thursday

It's mid-June and it's a start to summer and the monsoon season here in Orlando. We've had afternoon showers all week, at least around my neighborhood.

Buy One Get One Free

This evening I took my wife out to dinner using a Groupon to Cariera's Cucina Italiana here at Dr. Phillips. This is the fourth time we've been there with a Groupon coupon since the start of this year. And this'll be the last.

While driving up to the restaurant we passed, yet again, the fireworks tent set up in the middle of the empty Albertons grocery store at Marketplace. Cariera's is just a store down from the Albertsons.They had just set up it the last few days. There's nothing in it right now, but I suspect that they'll be set up sometime next week to start selling fireworks for the 4th, which is two weeks away.

No Smoking

On the way home I passed by another pile of wreckage from the Great Real Estate Implosion. This wall is all that remains of a dream to build a gated community full of million dollar homes on Apopka Vineland road. It's just a block north of the big Morman temple. There's a lot of money in that area, but not enough to keep this going. If you look at the map of the area you can see the wall and the artificial lake they built up in the center. All that's left of 1905 Apopka Vineland is a big patch of weeded sandy land with some water in the middle.

Walled and Busted

I also spotted this third double decker bus in a huge storage area on Old Winter Garden, right before OWG crosses Apopka Vineland. I think I remember seeing this being driven around the area, probably around I-Drive, but it's been so long I can't recall clearly.

Fun Bus

Technical

I used all three Olympus bodies today, since I had all three with me. The top two were taken with the E-P2 and the semi-busted M.Zuiko 17mm, the middle with the E-3 and the Zuiko Digital 12-60mm, and the bottom with the E-1 and the same lens.

If you pixel peep you can tell them apart. I suppose. Everything run through Lightroom 3.3.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cats and Bears

Late Evening Windown

Bear Pair

I've been very busy, so busy, I wasn't slowing down long enough to do any photography. So when I came home today I grabbed the E-P2 and put my OM 50mm on it and tried for the low evening light mellow look. Little Lucy gave me one of her patented looks, while the bears were calm about the whole thing.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

At Work with Linux: Adding HP Officejet Support to Fedora 14

Test printing using CUPS and the Gnome's system config printer

Test printing using HPLIP

LibreOffice Writer sees the newly-installed printer as well presented by CUPS and HPLIP

My Dell D630 may not be the most advanced notebook on the planet[1], but it's good enough for what I need. Tonight I decided to add support for my home printer, an HP Officejet Pro 8500A, for both CUPS as well as HPLIP. My printer is connected through one of the Dell's USB ports. There's not much to say except to follow directions for CUPS here and HIPLIP here. Because HPLIP uses CUPS install the CUPS driver for the HP 8500A then install HPLIP.

In all the years I've used Linux, I've never had trouble with adding printer support. I've had lots of trouble with other subsystems (graphics and audio are the two most troublesome areas), but printers have always worked for me.

Note: I didn't do anything magical, I just followed directions. Running HPLIP was wonderful to watch, since it fully automated everything, including a lot of command-line driver compilation.

Footnotes

[1] I got it three years ago. It's powered by a 2.4GHz dual-core Intel Core Duo T7700 with 4GiB DRAM and an nVidia Quadro 135M (equivalent to nVidia's 8400 GS consumer video card)

At Work with Linux: Installing Fedora 14 within VirtualBox on a Windows 7 host

It was only a matter of time before I tried this; hosting Fedora 14 via Virtual Box on a Windows 7 host. The version of Virtual Box I decided to use was version 4.0.8, Windows 7 was Win7 Enterprise, and the hardware platform was a Dell Latitude E6510 with a quad-core Intel i7 processor and 4GiB of ram.

To make it a little more interesting (quirkier might be a better adjective), everything, the software, the VM disk image, everything was installed on a 64GiB Sandisk SDXC card. The E6510 comes equipped with a SDHC/SDXC slot on the left front corner for holding a card, so I ordered a card and then installed VirtualBox 4.0.8 on it, followed by running VirtualBox and installing Fedora 14 in a VB virtual machine on the same card. Let me repeat that: VirtualBox software and the virtual machine files all reside on the SDXC card, not on the E6510's SSD.

The Fedora VM configuration was fairly straightforward; 2 'processors'[1] dedicated to the virtual machine, 1GiB memory, 40GiB virtual drive, NAT networking and everything else stock.

I wanted to install openSUSE 11.4, but it wouldn't boot past the introductory splash screen. It stops at a totally black screen in the virtual machine. After that I reached for the Fedora 14 installation DVD and went from there.

Fedora 14 updating packages after initial install: Windows 7 Enterprise hosting

But Fedora didn't result in VM nirvana either. While the installation went fairly quickly, the post installation updates to packages is taking forever. There are 1104 558 packages that need updating (1104 operations including cleanups), and after starting the update at 10am this morning, I'm just now at 402. And it's 12:30. Fortunately I'm doing this at home, and I've got plenty of other things I can do while this runs in the background as it were.

I don't know what the problems are, but it's more than likely something in my decisions that created the current setup. I'll probably look at it later, but I've got more important things to do on a weekend. Since this is an experiment, I wouldn't exactly call these real problems. More along the line of interesting issues.

Update

Well, after poking at it a bit this evening, I've decided to wipe the VirtualBox installation off the SDXC card and move on to more productive activities. The problem seems to be within VirtualBox; it doesn't like to  store the virtual drive on an SDXC card, which I perfectly understand. SDXC cards are great for streaming data and for holding files, but I don't exactly consider them to be "full-fledged" file systems capable of holding a VM's virtual drive. But it was an interesting experiment.

In other words, it didn't work well enough for my satisfaction, so I got rid of it all.

Footnote

[1] The Intel Core i7 cpu comes with four cores, each core with hardware-assisted threading. According to Windows and VirtualBox, the hardware looks to have eight distinct cores. I assigned two of those to the Fedora VM installation.

Software Used

Windows 7 Enterprise - Windows 6.1 (Build 7600) - Host OS
Oracle Virtual Box version 4.0.8 (Note: VirtualBox Extension Pack was installed)
Fedora 14 - Guest OS

Hardware Platform

Dell Latitude E6510 w/Intel Core i7 Q740 @1.73GHz, 4GiB DRAM, nVidia NVS 3100M, 128GiB SSD

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Android Rant Modification

In an earlier rant post I vented my spleen documented inconsistencies in how Android 2.2.1 expects end users to modify the input method for text boxes. In that post I wrote

What I discovered was that in order to change the keyboard I had to press my finger into an input text box and hold it down long enough for an "Input Method" dialog to appear beneath the input box as shown above.

You'd think that you could do that in any text box, such as the text box for inputting URLs in the browser. And you'd be wrong.


Well, it turns out I'm partially wrong. As you can see in the handset capture to the left, I'm able to select the input method in the browser's navigation bar. When I went looking for this capability the first time, I couldn't make it work no matter what I did, which is why I had to exit back to the Google search bar on the handset's top-level panel.

And from what limited testing I'm able to do you can perform this input method selection from just about any input text box. But that still doesn't excuse the fact it's only available via a counter-intuitive activity, one which I find I'm increasingly activating by accident (well, it's either that or the "Share page/Copy page url" dialog") when I keep my finger down too long. I know I'm getting old and slow, but I'm not that old and slow, at least not yet.

Android really seems to go out of its way to incite a strong love/hate relationship with the end user, as in I'm really loving to hate on Android. Apps I can forgive, but not core UI problems. Oh well. Just more motivate for me to double down and learn Android internals.

At Work with Linux: Chrome 12 and Shaun the Sheep on Fedora 14

Google released Chrome 12 yesterday (it came rattling down the tubes onto Fedora 14 before it hit my Windows 7 boxen). There was the usual coverage from the usual suspects (The Inquirer and Ars Technica, with Ars, as usual, being superior). And there is, thankfully, a page demonstrating one key feature of Chrome 12, GPU accelerated 3D CSS transforms. I love Shaun, having fallen in love with Aardman Studios and Wallace and Gromit years before. I didn't discover Shaun until I watched a number of the episodes on Netflix last year. Love it all. Anyway...

The demo uses GPU acceleration, CSS, and all the other goodies under the Chrome hood. All these application captures were made on Fedora 14 using Chrome 12.0.742.91. The Dell Latitude D630 has an nVidia Quadro NVS 135M video card, and the nVidia drivers are installed providing good hardware video acceleration.


I was quite pleased when the demo executed without any drama; no crashes, no odd artifacts (as compared with the Windows version). It just ran. The upper application capture shows just one of the windows streaming video, while the lower shows the carousel of multiple simultaneous streams in a 3D effect.


I'd like to remind the Gentle Reader that the carousel effect isn't new, and was in fact implemented by SGI for Time Warner's Full Service Network main screen back in the mid-1990's. I need to pull up those videos (on VHS tapes, no less) and get them digitized for the web. I look back on that period and still marvel at the genius and the creativity brought to bear on the FSN, and in the end, how it was all so tragically wasted. Time Warner Cable had absolutely no clue what to do with the technological treasures delivered to them. As they say, cast not pearls before swine...

And as a silliness "let's see if it will run" test on my Android-based handset, I hit the demo site with the results to you see to the left. My only comment: I really didn't expect it to execute, but I would have thought that Google would have known it's own, and thus targeted the message a little more sophistication by acknowledging the fact it was from their browser running on an Android handset.

Final Opinions

I'm honestly impressed for a number of reasons, First and foremost is that, with Chrome 12, the user experience (at least with the demo) is indistinguishable between Linux and Windows. That's significant, particularly for something as sophisticated as this demonstration.

Secondly is how smoothly and stably it runs on Linux, particularly Fedora Linux. I'm not hating on Linux but I'm no fool either. Chrome has gone a considerable distance in making Linux a first-class web platform, on par with Windows and Mac OS X. It runs rings around Firefox, including the latest releases of Firefox. With the ability to run without drama my Java plugins, and now take advantage of hardware acceleration (with decent nVidia drivers), Chrome now has pride of place on all my systems, with Firefox coming in second, and everybody else (IE 8/9, Safari, Opera) coming in a distant third.

Finally, I'm pleasantly surprised at how well Fedora 14 continues to Just Work, especially with all the hoary old Java I want to load on top of it, and the fact I still prefer nVidia's graphics drivers. Yeah, as the haters might want to point out, I have to go to the shell every once in a while to make some tweaks, but this is for features that aren't exactly main stream. As a day-to-day development platform it's pretty sweet.

Now watch some update (probably to the kernel) come out and ruin this wonderful kumbaya moment. Been there, suffered the moment already, seen it documented ad nauseam on linux haters...

Time to get back to work...

At Work with Linux: Chrome and Firefox and Java, oh my!

One of the capabilities I need on Fedora 14 64-bit is the ability to execute the Oracle Java 6 plugin (when called for) within Chrome (major version 12 at this point in time) and Firefox 4. Installing Oracle Java 6 installs the plugin, but doesn't enable it for the browsers. In order to enable the Oracle Java 6 plugin for both Chrome and Firefox, the alternatives command needs to be executed after installing Oracle Java 6 (update 26 at this point in time). All of this is done as root.

Steps to Enable the Java Plugin for Chrome and Firefox on Fedora 14 x86-64
Step 1Install Oracle (née Sun) Java 6 (update 26 at this point in time)
Step 2alternatives --install /usr/lib64/mozilla/plugins/libjavaplugin.so libjavaplugin.so.x86_64 /usr/java/default/jre/lib/amd64/libnpjp2.so 1
Step 3alternatives --config libjavaplugin.so.x86_64 1

Once installed you should type 'about:plugins' in the browser's address bar (Chrome)/location bar (Firefox); the command works for both browsers, and you'll get a plugin listing, one of which should be Java. Next navigate to a site that presents Java as a plugin and try out the installation. One location, oddly enough, is for Java 5 (http://java.sun.com/products/plugin/1.5.0/demos/applets.html). Since this still points to a Sun domain I don't know how long this particular link will stay active. I have checked in the demo directory of the JDK installation, and there is a local HTML page that loads the SwingSet demo as a applet.

Executing the SwingSet Demo as a plugin inside Chrome version 12.0.742.91

I'd like to thank that walking encyclopedia of all things Linux, Keven. Keven works for the same company I do. Asking Keven was a lot faster than trying to find the correct set of combinations in various fora via Google.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The Naming of Cats

Cat in the windowseat
Lucy M. Cat
The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.

First of all, there's the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey--
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter--
But all of them sensible everyday names.

But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular,
A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can she keep up her tail perpendicular,
Or spread out her whiskers, or cherish her pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.

But above and beyond there's still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover--
But THE CAT HERSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.

When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
Her mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of her name:
Her ineffable effable
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

With deepest apologies to the memory of T.S. Eliot

Walk-about

IMAG0177-1IMAG0178-1IMAG0174-1
ΩΔΘ

Ars Technica has an article stating that the current carbon emissions "dwarf" those the last time the Earth experienced such emissions 56 million years ago. According to the article, while the total quantity matches what was released, the rate of CO2 emission today is 10 times greater than what it was during the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM. The article's conclusion is the most interesting: "we are altering our environment in an unprecedented (and unpredictable) way."

I think the results are going to be predictable in the sense that our world is going to change so rapidly and drastically over the next few decades into a world that it will make the world we were living in before the twentieth century look like paradise. We already live in empty sprawling environments where all that's left at our feet is concrete, asphalt, and the litter of our society. In spite of the current economic mess we're in, our numbers and our corrupting civilization continues to spread relentlessly like a blight across the land.

It's good to have a job

It's a slow slow slow slow meetingThe 2011 hurricane season started June 1st. The Florida fire season is running full tilt; I can smell the smoke from the burning in the morning as I get ready to head into work.

The days are typical Florida summer days, where the humidity matches the temperature, and both are in the low 90's.

The fence around Partnership 2 and 3 now extends around the IDE in Research Park. When I walk in these days the gate is still open but there's a security guard standing there now. I can understand having a security fence around the IDE, but the Partnership buildings have the UCF logo emblazoned on their sides. Tends to dampen the feeling of open education around these parts, but then I'm a bit old fashioned anyway.

I get to sit in a nice conference room, in air-conditioned comfort, with my rear planted in a Herman Miller Aeron chair (or a reasonable facsimile thereof). I remember a decade ago when having an Aeron chair was a high point of geek chic. Now everybody has them it seems.

Oh well. Back to work.

IMAG0173-1

Monday, June 06, 2011

Bleak

IMAG0158-2-1IMAG0154-1-1

Bleak and grim are the overwhelming emotions at the moment. Rather than sit and let them stew, I'd much rather try to channel them into something creative. As I get older I'm beginning to view the world in a more apocalyptic manner. Like in these photographs.

The HTC smartphone camera's bleak effect suits me right now. I usually apply it as the second and last effect to another effect, such as saturation. I've discovered that bleak works best with lots of black (dark shadows, dark details, etc). After fighting noise and grain all these years I'm beginning to embrace it, photographing scenes that will bring out the 'flaws' of the sensor.

IMAG0151-1-1IMAG0152-1

Why the Honda Insight was a disappointment to me

There's an interesting story on CNN Money about the 10 cars that are a disappointment to their manufacturers for 2011. The list of 10 disappointments for 2011 are:
  1. BMW X6
  2. Mercedes-Benz R-Class
  3. Ford Flex/Lincoln MKT
  4. Mercedes-Benz Smart fortwo
  5. Toyota Tundra
  6. Nissan Quest
  7. Mercedes-Benz Maybach
  8. Honda Insight
  9. Acura ZDX
  10. Subaru Tribeca
The car that caught my eye on that list was the Honda Insight. I used to want to own a Honda Insight, but not anymore. CNN Money had this to say about my former automotive infatuation:
The Insight went on sale in March 2009 in the U.S as a 2010 model with prices starting at $19,800, making it the least expensive hybrid vehicle available in the United States. That should have boosted sales but didn't. Blame part of it on a drop in gasoline prices of over one-third over the past year that eroded demand for fuel-efficient cars. Blame the rest on excessive enthusiasm for cost-cutting. Embarrassingly for Honda, the more expensive Prius continues to beat Insight like a drum, outselling the Insight seven to one.
Back in January 2009 the wife and I drove to Classic Honda on West Colonial and Mercy Drive to put a deposit down on the not-yet-shipped 2009 Honda Insight. We wanted to purchase a new car for my commuting and our travel, and we wanted a very high MPG hybrid. We were put off by the high cost of the Prius and attracted by the (barely) under $20,000 price of the Insight, as well as the supposedly higher MPG the Insight was supposed to provide.

Well, March came and the first few Insights were delivered to Classic Honda. We drove over to look at them and take one out for a test drive. We noticed a number of issues that would eventually put us off and keep us from buying the Insight:

  1. Size. The car was cramped to drive in and to ride in on the drivers side. The back seat was almost non-existent once the front seats had been pushed back.
  2. Interior Cheap Materials. The interior of the car was cheap, with plastic everywhere. And when I say plastic I mean the slick, cheap-feeling kind you find on toys at the dollar store. Seriously. The exterior fit and finish was adequate and the engine and drive train were like little jewels under the hood. Too bad I don't drive strapped to the outside of a vehicle.
  3. Expensive. Once the dealership started adding in this and that fee, and once we started asking for very basic features like floor mats, then the cost went well past $20,000 into the price range of the Prius.
  4. Treatment. We were treated poorly at the dealership. Firstly, they couldn't offer us a car note lower than 6%, even though we were going to put 20% as a down payment. We had and continue to have an excellent credit rating. Secondly, they were very pushy that we buy the car right then. Even though we put a deposit on a car, we were told that if we didn't buy the car right then and there the car would probably be sold by the time we got back on Monday. Keep in mind this was Saturday, and we wanted to get a better loan at 3.5% from our credit union. By the time we were done at Classic Honda that day, we were done with Classic Honda.
The next day, a Sunday, the wife and I drove back up to West Colonial, but instead of stopping at Classic Honda we drove past them to the Toyota of Orlando dealership right down the street from them. We looked at the Prius' they had on the lot, talked to their salespeople, drove one around, and by the time all was said and done we drove off the lot with a 2009 Prius.

Everything that Classic Honda did to made us angry wasn't repeated at Toyota of Orlando. Toyota of Orlando was courteous throughout the entire process, the Prius was competitively priced compared to the Insight and was a much better car to drive and ride in, and we got a really good loan at a very low interest rate. Two years later we still feel we bought the better car, and we intend to purchase another Prius, or something close to it. But not a Honda Insight.

What killed the Honda deal for us was the treatment by the Honda dealership.

I drove back to Classic Honda in my new Prius to get my deposit back. Revenge never tasted so sweet.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Second Lakeland Trip

Lake Mirror, Downtown Lakeland

We drove back to Lakeland again today to pick up some more produce and to purchase $20 worth of lilies that Judy saw while we were there last Sunday. She wanted to purchase them last Sunday, but I wanted to see if there were for sale here in Orlando. Unfortunately they weren't so we traveled back to the same spot and picked up eight to be planted around the house. We also found, at the same spot, a yellow and an orange hibiscus. I've seen orange before, but I've never seen yellow. The plants were large and healthy and pretty cheap.

Landing

Lake Mirror, Lakeland

Promenade, Lake Mirror, Lakeland

On the way back to Orlando we drove through the historic section of Lakeland, and I stopped at a few points around Lake Mirror to photograph some of the views. Lakeland is an old Florida city, and a lot of the architecture around Lake Mirror is from the mid-20th century and earlier. I also noticed that Lake Mirror was full of birds, from ducks to cranes to ibis and even seagulls. The shores were thick with the birds, and they knew no fear of humans.

Technical

Top three photos were taken with an Olympus E-3 and Zuiko Digital 12-60mm zoom. The bottom was the one of the last photos I could take with the M.Zuiko 9-18mm on the E-P2. That M.Zuiko is now packed back in its box, ready to head back to B&H Photo.

I played a bit with the last two photos with Lightroom 3.3 in an effort to created an "old timey" look. I have yet to decide if I like that look or not.