15
Aug
10

San Francisco & Marin Headlands Photography Workshop

August 15, 2010 9:40 PM

I had an exciting weekend where I took a photography workshop! It was a Father’s Day gift from my wife and kids, and since Father’s Day was a couple of months ago, I was very anxious for this weekend to come. The workshop was held by the Aperture Academy (www.apertureacademy.com) It was an incredible time, where I spent Saturday afternoon/evening (1pm to 9pm) taking great pictures of the San Francisco/Marin Headlands area. The other people taking the workshop are great people, and great people who share similar interests, such as photography, just makes for a great day.

We encountered awesome weather during the workshop. No fog interrupted our afternoon shoot. We started at Baker Beach, where we took our first photos of the Golden Gate Bridge. I also took the time to take water shots of the crashing waves, where I ended up getting my tripod and feet wet. We also ran into some fully nude people, as Baker Beach is one of the only beaches in the Bay Area where full nudity is legal.

From there, we went on to Fort Point. After being in the Bay Area for 10 years, this was my first visit to this historic landmark. The Fort had awesome architecture to photograph, and it had a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and San Francisco’s cityscape. I learned more about composition at this stop.

We then went off to Sausalito (another first visit for me) where we stopped to warm up with some hot coffee and eat some dinner at the Taste of Rome Caffe. Great little place right by the marina. This is where the weather wasn’t as cooperative. We headed out to Rodeo Beach to take pictures of the sunset, but the cloud cover prevented us from seeing the sun at all.

Finally, we headed up to the Marin Headlands to take some night shots of the Golden Gate Bridge. What a breathtaking experience to see the bridge at twilight. An even better experience is to capture the moment on film (digital film in this case).

I used Manual on my camera for all of my shots, which is a first for me. I had a great time on this trip, and I recommend others to take a workshop like this. Here is the link to the blog of our trip. Here are some of the pictures I took too.

http://www.apertureacademy.com/photography-workshop-sf-aug14-2010.php

~rb

14
May
10

Kata KT D-3N1-22 3 In 1 Sling /Backpack with Laptop Slot

May 14, 2010 2:32 PM

Wow, it’s been 5 months since my last blog (which several people have pointed out). Laziness is most of it, but the other part is I haven’t gotten anything exciting in the last few months. You would think I’d have an iPad by now, but I don’t (by my choice though, as I’m waiting for gen 2 with a front facing camera).

So, we’re going to talk about a bag. Yes, a bag! Since I haven’t bought any gadgets, I’ll talk about the bag where I put my most favorite gadgets, my Canon 40D and Canon Vixia HF10.

The Kata 3N1caught my eye when I was in New York and visited the B&H Super Store (http://bhphotovideo.com). The bag comes in 3 sizes to fit your needs. The largest can fit a 15” notebook, camera with battery grip and Telephoto lens, plus room for 4 lenses and accessories. The smallest bag can fit a DSLR with a medium zoom lens and room for 2 lenses and accessories. I purchased the medium sized bag. I have it loaded with my Canon 40D, mid-size zoom lens, 2 lenses, my 430EX Flash, with room for the Vixia camcorder.

What makes this bag really handy is the ability to whip out your camera quickly when touring around. The camera is accessed through a side pocket that can be quickly opened by pulling on a tab that pulls back the zippers. The zippers are of high quality that they smoothly open quickly. You wear the bag with one sling that allows you to rotate the bag from your back into a fanny-pack like position across your chest. This gives easy access to the camera, and doesn’t require you to put the bag down. There is pocket access on both the right and left side, as well as the ability to wear the bag using a right or left sling, so this quick access method can be used by both righties and lefties.

Organizing the bag is a cinch. You can open up the bag completely, and the bag comes with many dividers to help keep your equipment snug and accessible. I configured my bag so that I can access my camera and flash from the quick access pocket. The other side is where I put the camcorder. The bag came with a flash card envelope that can be mounted in the bag using velcro. Also, the bag came with a rain cover.

The bag I bought came with a padded laptop compartment. It’s made for Netbooks 10 inches or smaller, perfect for my Dell Mini 9, but I was able to squeeze my 13” Macbook Pro into the pocket.

Finally, the bag is comfortable to wear. You can wear the bag with a single sling for the quick access, but for treks where you won’t need the camera immediately, you can wear the bag in a traditional backpack or a secure cross-strap configuration.

So here is my latest blog. I do plan on getting the new HTC EVO 4G http://now.sprint.com/evo/?INTCID=AB:UPU:HERO:041110:EvoPL:960×320 from Sprint next month, so that will probably be my next review.

~rb

21
Jan
10

HTC Eris vs Palm Pre

January 24, 2010 6:49 AM

I heard that the HTC Droid Eris was available for $9.99 on Amazon.com, so I figured that it would be a cheap way to try out the device and see if I liked both Verizon’s service as well as the Android operating system. I’ve been using my Palm Pre on the Sprint network for over 6 months, but some of my frustrations with the device really peaked my interest in all the new Android based phones. The HTC Droid Eris was my phone of choice over the Motorola Droid due to HTC’s Sense User Interface, so for the purpose of this review, I’ll be referencing that interface in my comparisons.

Physical look and feel:
My first impression of the HTC Eris is that it is a sexy phone. It is sleek looking and easy to hold. It has a nice sturdy feel due to its solid build and descent weight. The back is coated with a hard, yet soft feeling teflon and it has a glass screen. The glass screen isn’t as smooth as the new screens on the iPhone 3GS, but it finishes the device beautifully. There is no physical QWERTY keyboard, but the phone does have 4 touchscreen buttons (haptic feedback – the phone vibrates to acknowledge the touch), 2 physical buttons (one for answering calls/quick phone button, the other for power/hang-up), and a roller-ball/button (for navigation and selection).

The Palm Pre molds nicely into the hand, but it is made of plastic, lighter weight, and feels cheap compared to the Eris. There is a slide out QWERTY keyboard. After 6 months of use, my Pre has developed a slight gap and has loosened along the seam between the top and bottom pieces of the phone (forums call this the Oreo effect). This adds to the cheap feel of the phone. Besides the QWERTY, the Pre has only one other button, which is used for minimizing apps. The Pre has the gesture area that is used for many functions depending on the application.

Both phones have a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top of the phone. The Pre has a Micro-USB port on the right side of the phone, with cover. The Eris has a Mini-USB port on the bottom of the phone. Both phones have a volume rocker on the left side of the phone.

For this category, the Eris fully wins. It just looks and feels better. I personally like the physical QWERTY on the Pre, but I’m preparing myself for the inevitable end to physical QWERTYs on mobile devices (which I predict will happen by 2020).

Applications:
This is a brief section because Android clearly wins in this space. The Android Market has more selections with better applications than what is available on the Pre. As of this writing, the Pre has around 1,000 applications, while Android has over 16,000 applications. Application count isn’t everything though, but it shows which platform developers are more focused. Also, the quality of the applications on Android are better than on the Pre. The Facebook, Twitter, augmented reality, and other applications have more features/functions on the Android OS than on Palm’s WebOS.

As far as built-in applications, I do want to point out differences between the email, calendar, and contact applications.

Email:
The HTC Eris only allows for a single Gmail account to associated with the device. The Palm Pre allows multiple Gmail accounts. Also, the Palm Pre has the unified mailbox capability. This allows you to see all your emails in a single pane instead of having to switch from one account to another. This by itself isn’t very useful as a lot of people, including myself like to look at work separate from personal; however, this functionality allows for other features such as a unified view of Flagged emails. I use this function a lot as I use flags as my todo list. I can look at all my flagged emails, from all my email accounts in a single view, which is very useful. One thing I think is a bug with Android is that calendar invitations in Exchange sync don’t show the date/time in the email! The Pre does show the date/time. Both allow you to accept or deny the invitation from the email.

Calendar:
This comes down to personal preference, but I like the look and feel of the Palm Pre’s calendar application better than the Eris’s. Free time between appointments are collapsed on the Pre using an accordion like compression view. Also, because the Eris only allows one Gmail account, you can only see one Google calendar. The Palm Pre allows you to have more than one Gmail account so you can see more than one Google calendar.

Contacts:
The Palm Pre’s Synergy feature edges HTC out in this area. Synergy displays contact info from your phone, Facebook, Yahoo!, and LInkedIn into your contacts. If people have entered phone numbers into their Facebook or LInkedIn profiles, they will display on the Pre. This is very useful to me as it simplifies contact management. Let your contact manage their own data, and you receive the updates from them directly to your phone, without you needing to do any updates. I feel that this type of functionality will be a key default in the future, especially since I hate updating contact information, when you can update your info and I benefit from it.

HTCs contact application is a traditional application, but does have some bells and whistles. There is integration with Flickr and Facebook where you can see status and photo updates within your contact list. Also, you can sort through emails, phone call history, and SMS history for that contact within the application. If Android can add the ability to get the phone numbers from Facebook, Android would be a clear winner in this space.

User Interface:
This is an area where Palm clearly has put a lot of thought and edges a win over Android/HTC Eris. The Palm Pre has simplified usage to the least amount of movements to launch application, make phone calls, and switch applications. This is an important category to me because I believe that innovations in human/interface engineering are critical for consumer electronics moving forward. Every 1/10 of a second of time savings is a key differentiator in this space.

The HTC Eris requires a lot of touches to call someone. There are many ways to do this so in order to give the Eris a fair shot, I’ll highlight the fastest way I found this to work. I’ll discuss 2 methods, speed dial and phone book dialing.

HTC Eris – Speed Dial:
This assumes that on your main home screen, you’ve setup a shortcut to the number you’re dialing and that the Eris is in locked mode. First, hit the power button to bring the phone out of sleep, swipe down to unlock the phone, click the number to dial. If you happen to not be in an application, you’ll need to click the home button before clicking the number to dial.

Palm Pre – Speed Dial:
This assumes that you have programmed one of the QWERTY keys as a speed dial button. Slide the phone open, this both brings power and unlocks the phone, hold down the QWERTY key for the speed dial.

For speed dial, the Pre wins by a large margin. It takes almost a full second to speed dial on the Eris and 1/4 second on the Pre.

HTC Eris – Phone Book Dial:
Click power button to wake phone. Swipe down to unlock phone. Click the phone hard button to bring up the phone application. Enter the first initial, last initial using the number pad. Click Call.

Palm Pre – Phone Book Dial:
Slide open phone, which wakes and unlocks the phone. On QWERTY click first initial last initial. Tap result to call.

Again, the Pre wins by a large margin. On the Eris, you need to look at what letter corresponds to what number on the number pad, unless you want to use the QWERTY which adds another click to go from number pad to QWERTY. The Palm Pre is just faster and easier.

General Usage:
The rest of the UI comes down to preference. HTC’s Sense UI is very nice and has 5 screens to stick Android Widgets. The Palm Pre does not have widgets. Switching between live applications is a lot faster with the Palm Pre’s cards. You just swipe between open cards. The Eris keeps track of the 6 most recent applications. Hold down the home button to get this list, and then click on the application you want to go to.

Search:
The Palm Pre’s Universal Search is easier to use as it searches almost all of the phones searchable items. In Universal Search, you get results for contacts, applications, and the ability to search Twitter, Google Search, and Google Maps. The Android OS requires that you go into the application such as contacts or menu for applications, then click the search icon to search that specific category.

UI is very subjective, so it comes down to personal preference, but I found the quickness of Palm’s shortcuts to be significantly faster than what Android provides.

Accessories:
The HTC Eris didn’t have any accessories unique to it. Palm’s magnetic induction charging is unique to the Pre and is highly useful. The Pre’s application behavior changes with usage of this accessory. Answering phone calls when the Pre is on the charger automatically puts the call in speaker phone. Lifting the phone from the charger during a live call or when the phone is ringing transfers the audio from speaker to the handset. I have one on my office desk, and the phone’s calendar is always up for me to look at.

Networks:
I’ll keep this short since my results will vary from user to user, but for me, Sprint wins over Verizon. Sprint has more bars in the places I go, and lower dropped calls. Also, Sprint’s data network seems faster than Verizon. Again, your results will vary over mine, but the key issue for me is that Verizon has dropped calls in my house where I only get 1 to 2 bars with Verizon, while I get 5 bars with Sprint and have not had any dropped calls in the last 6 months.

Conclusion:
I’ll keep this short since this was a long one, but in the end, I’m returning my HTC Droid Eris and keeping my Palm Pre. I do anticipate that I will change to Android one day. There are rumors that Sprint will be releasing a HTC Android phone using 4G (WiMax) sometime this calendar year, so I think I will wait for that.

~rb

17
Oct
09

Amazon Kindle (1st Gen): 1 Year Later

October 17, 2009 7:10 PM

So, here is my second “1 Year Later” review. I’ve had the Amazon Kindlesince September 2008. It was a gift from my wife and kids. So I have the 1st Gen device, not the 3rd generation Kindle that was released just last week. So, for the purposes of this review, I’ll stick to functionality that still exist in the new model.

The screen is perfect for reading books. I’ve read books for up to 7 hours straight (mostly long flights) and it feels like I’ve read a regular book. I can only read off a backlit screen for a couple of hours at most. I like that the Kindle keeps track of where you left off, and it also has the capability to do multiple bookmarks. There is an icon in the upper right corner of the page that looks like a folded corner. This allows you to have multiple earmarks so you can easily go back to another page for references. This works well in new novels where you want to reread a section to review a character or another similar reason. You can also add comments to specific pages. These comments can be accessed in two ways. The first method is by downloading the text file through a USB cable. The second way is by going to kindle.amazon.com. This website will contain your comments along with a quotation of the referenced section. I’ve used this feature multiple times with my technical manuals/books during the times that I need to email information.

The battery on my 1st Gen Kindle lasts about 7 days with the wireless off. With wireless on, it’ll last 3 to 4 days.

The final piece I want to talk about is the Kindle store. This store can be accessed through the Kindle and also through amazon.com. I do most of my purchases from Amazon’s website, where I can purchase the book just like any regular book. I can then go to my Kindle, turn it on, and the book will be automatically downloaded and ready to be read. The second method is by going to the Amazon store straight from the Kindle itself. This is an awesome feature as it allows you to purchase a book directly from the device, which is very useful if you’re at a place like an airport or hotel. The Kindle hooks up to the cellular network, which is included in the price of the device. The 3rd Gen Kindle released last week is International (the 1st and 2nd gen Kindles are US only). This will allow you to download a book in almost every location in the world that has GSM cell phones. By having this cellphone like data package, you won’t need to bring your laptop or hunt for a wireless hotspot. I use the amazon.com method mostly due to search working faster on the website, but the store on the Kindle itself works very well.

I’ve always considered myself to be a descent reader. I go through 20 to 40 books a year. Since I’ve had my Kindle, I’ve already read 60+ books. This is mostly due to me reading series, and the Kindle allows me to buy the next book immediately after I finish the current one. I highly recommend the Kindle to anyone who reads a lot. The prices of the books are usually less than $10. Also, paperbacks are usually at least $1 cheaper than the physical books.

~rb

07
Sep
09

Canon 40D: 1 Year Later

September 7, 2009 9:15 PM

As mentioned a couple of blog posts ago, I’ve decided to do reviews of gadgets I’ve had for 1 year or more, mostly due to my not purchasing any new items recently. The first gadget I’ll do a long term review on is my Canon EOS 40D“”, along with the lenses I’ve purchased for it.

Wow, I love this camera. I was torn between getting a Nikon or the Canon, and went with the Canon since I already had a couple of lenses from my old SLR. I’ve been using this camera for the last year mostly for taking pictures of the kids. I have 2 lenses I primarily use with this camera. My most favorite lens is the Canon EF 50mm“”. The other lens I use is the Canon EF-S 18-55mm“”. Compared to my camera, I got the cheaper lenses. The recommendation is to buy a cheaper camera and better lenses, but I’ve done the opposite, hoping to grow into my 40D.

The camera feel is perfect for my hands. I can hold it all day and my hands don’t get tired due to how the camera is molded. It was easy to start taking pictures without having to read the manual, but there are a lot of features that are available so reading the manual is recommended. I also purchased Canon EOS 40D Guide to Digital Photography“” so that I can get the maximum value from the camera. Some examples of the customization available on the 40D are the 3 custom settings. You can custom configure 3 different settings and save them. Recalling them is as easy as twisting the selection dial to C1, C2, and C3. I currently use all 3 settings. C1 is set for portraits, mostly for my 50mm lens. I have C1 set mostly stock, except that I also capture the full 10.1 megapixel RAW format. C2 is set for constant auto-focus (servo) as well as a faster frame speed, mostly for taking moving pictures of the kids. C3 is set for exposure bracketing. This is where I take 3 pictures, the first is at the normal exposure, the second is under-exposed, and the third is over-exposed. I use C3 for the times I’m not sure about the right exposure.

Other things I like about the camera is that the battery lasts a very long time. I’ve taken over 1,500 photos, downloaded them, and still had plenty of battery left. The camera is capable of taking 6 shots a second. I don’t use the feature often, but it’s fun to play with.

The main reason I purchased a SLR was mostly due to my frustration of flash bleaching (I don’t know the correct term, but this is where the direct flash dulls out color). So with my SLR, I also purchased a Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flash“”. This flash allows me to point the light at a wall or ceiling. This bounces the light off the surface and provides a balanced flash that does not bleach out color.

Most of the pictures you see on this website have been taken with that camera. I’m no professional photographer by any means. But, I think this camera and the accessories have allowed me to take some amazing pictures.

~rb

12
Aug
09

Next Wheel of Time Book!!!

August 12, 2009 11:02 PM

So I was browsing around Amazon and saw that the next book of the Wheel of Time Series will be released in November!!! The Gathering Storm (Wheel of Time) is scheduled to be released on November 3. Robert Jordan passed away on September 17, 2007. He left behind his notes and thoughts on how the Wheel of Time series would continue. He was in the middle of writing book 12 of the series when he passed away. Book 12 was picked up by Brandon Sanderson, who finished the novel from Robert Jordan’s notes.

Many thought that book 12 would be the end of the series, but the website http://www.dragonmount.com says that there are another 2 books left in the series. So maybe Jordan’s notes were more extensive than we originally thought, or Robert Jordan always intended on having the series end with 14 total novels.

Well, I’m excited and now know what I’ll be reading in November.

~rb

31
Jul
09

Macbook Pro 13″ & Palm Pre & iPhone 3GS

July 31, 2009 9:33 PM

So I broke down and bought a new MacBook Pro 13.3-Inch Laptop this week. I ended up getting the 13“ Macbook Pro with a 2.53Ghz Dual Core processor, 4 Gigs of RAM, 250GB Hard drive, and 256MB Shared Video NVidia graphics card. It was an upgrade from my 2 year old Macbook. Wow, this is such a great machine. The first thing I noticed was that the touchpad is so smooth. It feels like rubbing glass without any resistance whatsoever. I’ve never felt a touchpad that is this smooth. Also, the touchpad has removed the traditional button, which increases the overall size of the touchpad. Apple has made the whole pad a button, so you can click anywhere. The extra mouse real estate makes using the laptop even easier. The backlit keyboard adds a great look to the already sleek looking body. I’ve heard a lot about the unibody, have seen it in the store, and have touched ones my friends own, but it takes owning one and using it for a day to really appreciate the quality of the laptop’s build. The LCD display is so crisp, and the sound is very crisp and has very deep bass. You can hear the bass with the ”dong“ from the Apple boot up sound. And of course, the system is fast!!! I mean real fast. I can run my normal 6 to 8 applications, plus Parallels Virtual Machine with 3 Windows apps, and this box continues to run smooth. Lastly, the multitouch on the touchpad is so useful. The ability to use 2, 3, and even 4 fingers to do things has simplified usage. Apple continues to shave seconds off of the traditional User Interface methods.

Apple Leopard’s Time Machine proves once again that it is an awesome simple backup solution that is very intuitive and doesn’t need an expert to run. I used the Time Machine restore feature to migrate to my new Macbook Pro. I was up and running on it from my old Macbook in 2.5 hours. The only thing I needed to do was update iTunes to the latest version. With that, everything worked perfectly and I was able to work immediately with no problems.

It’s also been a month since I’ve had my Palm Pre. So far I’m still happy with the device. Additional impressions is that there is no email search. I hope Palm will address this with a later patch. I’ve been getting better battery life than reported on the review sites. This is mostly due to not using Push IMAP, and just having the phone sync once an hour. Also, I’ve found that closing all the cards is an important way of saving battery life also. WebOS 1.1 has also increased battery life. I’ve done some head to head speed tests against Annie’s iPhone 3GS, and the Palm Pre is faster with web surfing, email, and even playing music. Once Palm adds email search and gets more apps (which should happen soon with the public release of the Mojo SDK), I’ll be completely satisfied.

As mentioned earlier, we upgraded Annie’s 1st generation iPhone with an iPhone 3GS. The build of the phone is really nice. The screen is just as smooth as my Macbook Pro’s touchscreen. The phone is fast. The Voice Command feature works as advertised and is a breeze to use. The video camera is very welcome, especially due to the kids. The camera is also very clear with the Auto Focus capability, but my Palm Pre’s camera is better due to the integrated flash that the iPhone lacks.

Well, I’ll continue playing with these new toys. I don’t anticipate buying any other new gadgets, so I’ll have to find something else to write about. Maybe I’ll do some follow up reviews on my older gadgets.

~rb




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