More Film, and digiFilm

I got my first batch of film back from the shop the other day. I sent in six rolls, 36 exposures each, for a total of $76 for developing and a quick scan to CD.

The shots from this Vivitar I bought are tremendously weird. I mean, they look like they were all shot in like 1994. They have this weird, faded quality to them, a perfect vignetting, and just look old, way more than Hipstamatic or Instagram could make them. Like they all have this dreamlike, lo-fi quality to them, much more so than my old old 35mm gear does. The Vivitar has really good Series 1 glass, but a plastic body. It also has all-auto, no-adjustment shooting, but a modern motorized drive system to it. If it was just slightly smaller, it would be a perfect camera.

I wish I still had the original one. Or I wish I had an exact model number, another copy. This one is very similar, but not exact, which bugs me. But what’s weird is sometimes I forget it isn’t the same camera. I was walking around the Port of Oakland the other day with it, and thought how strange and nostalgic it was that the same camera I had for most of the Nineties was with me now, but then realized, it isn’t the same camera. That old camera went to a lot of strange places with me. It moved from Indiana to Seattle to New York. I have pictures from the Trinity test site where the first atomic explosion happened, from Vegas, from the Empire State Building, the Milwaukee Metalfest, Kent State, Bloomington, New Mexico, Boston, Disneyland, Washington DC, and hundreds of points in between.

Anyway, I dumped a few shots on Flickr here. That album also includes some old 120 film shots taken with a Diana F+.

Another topic: the Yashica digiFilm Y35. So a group in Hong Kong bought the Yashica name and did a kickstarter for a digital version of the old Electro 35 camera. The gimmick was that it was going to have this stuff called digiFilm, which was a little film canister you could swap out and change what kind of pictures it would take. Like you could switch to B&W, 1600, 6×6, whatever. You could also put a switch or button on the camera to do this, but they thought it would be a neat thing to make it “like” film. I thought it might be a fun toy, and the camera looked cool, so on a whim, I backed the Kickstarter.

Ugh, I hate Kickstarter. I’ve backed maybe a dozen things in the past, and maybe two have turned out okay. And I always feel like I get burned, and I always vow to never do it again, and then something comes up. And like clockwork, they met their goal, got their money, and then said, “Ok great! Now we’ll go design it!” and the wait began. There were a few sketchy updates, but it looked like this thing would never come to fruition.

Well, it showed up the other day. My verdict is that the camera is garbage. I think the appeal of the old Electro 35 was that it was metal and compact and had a certain tactile feel to it, like old rangefinders of that era. This camera is all plastic, and very cheap plastic. It’s light, and feels like one of those toy squirt guns in the shape of a camera you’d get from the Archie McPhee catalog. It has a non-operational film wind knob that’s molded into the top of the camera. The viewfinder has no optics, just a clear piece of plastic. The doors feel like they will break off in the next fifteen minutes.

The camera uses two AA batteries (not included) and an SD card (not included), plus the digiFilm thing, of which I received four. You then “wind” each shot with an advance lever, and press and hold a really cheap shutter button, and have to hold it and hold still for like a second and a half. The pictures look roughly like what my Windows Mobile cell phone took back in 2008. The B&W looks okay. The others, just use your iPhone and Hipstagram. It does marginally look okay from a distance. If I ever put my cameras on display on a shelf, it would look okay next to my Trip 35 and Canonet QL17. But, ugh. What a waste of money.

I’ve got another four rolls of film to shoot, and might stock up on more for the holidays. I should probably get some 120 film at some point and try that one again, too.

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New/Old Camera

So, in the “buying old crap I had twenty-five years ago and threw out at some point,” I found another Vivitar camera that is (almost) the same as the one I had from 1993 to about 2000.

I talked a bit about my history with analog film a few years ago, when I last fell down the analog film k-hole. I bought this Vivitar camera during the summer of 1993, after not having a camera at all for about three or four years. I was working at Montgomery Ward that summer (in addition to another full-time factory job) and had an employee discount, so I picked up the most camera I could get for about $100 at the photo counter in their Electric Avenue department at the Concord Mall.

That hundred bucks bought a 35mm point-and-shoot. It had a plastic body, but a decent Series 1 glass auto-focus lens. It was a power zoom, so it could zip from 38 to 70mm focal length with motorized control. The film load/wind was also motorized; you dropped in a film cartridge, closed the door, and the camera automatically sucked the film into the takeup reel. When you hit the end, it automatically rolled it back into the canister. The camera also had blue-teal accents to it, which was Nineties as fuck.

I bought this camera with the intention of documenting shows. It was the height of death metal and the zine scene, and I wanted something I could sneak into concerts. I was going to a lot of shows with Ray, and getting free passes to stuff to interview bands. In practice, I never got to take pictures at shows, because security was always really shitty about it, even when a record label gave me a photo pass. And this was a fairly worthless camera for taking pictures of bands, except maybe candid, backstage stuff at a close range with a lot of light.

Ultimately, I didn’t take that many pictures with this camera. I think maybe two dozen rolls went through it during those seven years. I took a trip across the country in 1995 and shot maybe six pictures total. A Disney trip in 1997 was about two rolls. The 1999 cross-country trip was another three, maybe. Getting a camcorder in 1996 reduced the amount of film I shot. Getting a digital camera at the end of 2000 relegated this thing to the back of the closet. I don’t know when I got rid of it; maybe when I moved in 2005.

Ironically, the most-seen photo from this camera is one you may be familiar with.

I was hunting for this camera online, and found this 5500PZ on eBay for seven bucks, including postage. When I got it, I realized it’s not exactly what I had. Mine was slightly thinner, with the zoom controls on the back, not the front. I’m sure it’s optically the same. But it bugs me that it’s not identical, and scanning through other eBay auctions, I can’t find the model that is exactly like mine. Maybe Vivitar sold some oddball model exclusively to Wards. Anyway, for seven bucks, close enough.

I put a battery in this one to test it. It uses a small lithium battery that was hard to find online. The zoom motor is much louder than I’d expected, and the zoom itself is not smooth and very slow. It’s not exactly the auto-focus that my new Canon has. I didn’t have any film in the house, so I ordered a few rolls, and we’ll see how it goes.

I’ve also gone back and started scanning some of the old photos I didn’t have scanned from this era 25 years ago. It’s a reminder how much of a pain in the ass film was. It also makes me think too much about exactly when and where photos were taken, since EXIF wouldn’t be invented for another half-decade. Trying to not get into too much of a nostalgia backslide, which leads to the regret that I didn’t take more pictures back then. But it’s understandable when I go to pay for film developing. Anyway.

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360 Photos, Ricoh Theta V

I bought a new camera recently, a Ricoh Theta V. It’s a 360 camera, which uses two fisheye lenses on a small thing about the size of a TV remote, and software inside stitches together the two images into a 360-degree sphere, which can then be hosted on various online things like Facebook or Flickr or whatever, with a viewer where you can drag around your viewpoint.

The camera is neat; it’s a small form factor and easily pocketable. It’s very good at removing them seam from the two images it glues together. It can also do video, and does the stitching on-the-fly, so you could also stream these spherical images to YouTube or some VR app. The camera has no removable battery, no video card, just a USB connector to charge or tether, and a mount for a tripod.

One of the reasons I wanted this camera was to port images into Google Street View. If you look at google maps, and drag the little GSV guy onto a map, all the roads Google has traversed will be blue, but you’ll also sometimes see little blue dots, which are where people have taken a spherical photo and uploaded it to Street View. I like to take these with my phone sometimes, which works but is not optimal; you have to spin around and take a bunch of pictures in each direction, and the stitching is slow and distorted. One of the cameras recommended by Google is the Theta V, so that’s what I got.

The workflow for using the camera is a bit goofy. It tethers to your phone by becoming a WiFi hotspot which you connect to, and then you can use an app to take pictures. Then you transfer the pictures to your phone or PC and post them elsewhere. You can take snapshots or recordings without a phone, but there’s no viewfinder, and the camera doesn’t have a built-in GPS; it only geotags when connected to a phone. The connection process is a bit goofy, and it takes a few seconds, but it mostly works.

The big problem is it’s impossible to take a 360 photo without ending up in it. If you hold the camera, your thumb ends up in the bottom of the shot, and looks gigantic and weird. There are tricks to get around this, like if you put the camera on a tripod and go hide behind something, using your phone as the remote. Or take two pictures and stand in different places, then merge them in Photoshop. You can also just be in the picture, but that’s not an option for me, because I look like a goofy idiot.

The other problem is that I bought this camera with hopes of taking a lot of great outdoor photos in the bay area, and almost immediately, we went into the dark gray sky season where it always looks dreary outside. And we’re getting a hint of the smoke in the air, too. So the light is all wrong and it’s time for seasonal depression to kick in. Time to drag out the light box.

I do think this will be a good camera for vacations. Of course, there are none on the horizon. I wish I would have had it when I was in Alaska last spring. I also would love to get out to the land in Colorado, which is very sparsely mapped – there’s a road about a half-mile from my place that did get captured by Google, but they didn’t turn down the dirt road, so maybe it’s time to get back there (when it’s not freezing out.)

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Oculus Go

I tried out the Oculus Rift last January (see Oculus Rift Impressions) and I was impressed, but not convinced enough to drop the cash on building a two-grand PC to run one. Now, the Oculus Go is out, and I picked up one last Sunday. Now I’m convinced.

The Oculus Go is a free-standing VR headset. It looks similar to the Rift, except it doesn’t hook up to an expensive computer. It is self-contained, with the Qualcomm CPU from a cell phone contained inside the headset. It’s like a cross between those headsets that require you to put a phone in front of your eyes and a Rift. For $200, you get the headset and a single handheld controller, and are ready to go.

I’ve been wanting to write a long article on this, but every time I start, I go back to playing with the Go. So here’s a quick bullet list of impressions.

  • The Go is roughly the same size and weight as a Rift. The fit and finish are not bad; maybe the straps are a bit more cheap-feeling. But it fits well, and once I put in a spacer piece, it worked great with glasses.
  • You can’t change the PD (width between lenses) or focus at all, but they are fine for me. I’ve noticed the focus is really, really finicky depending on the fit and angle. Sometimes it is 100% blurry, and I adjust my glasses or the angle by like less than a percent and it’s completely in focus.
  • The sound is amazing. There are small speakers built into the strap mounts that aim right into your ears, so you can hear perfectly. (There is also a standard headphone jack if you need to be silent to everyone around you.) The spatial sound is also amazing. If you are listening to someone speak in front of you and you turn your head to the right, you will hear them mostly in your left ear.
  • I thought the lenses and graphics would be a big step down from the Rift, but they are very close. I’m not saying it is exact, but it would take a serious A/B test to demonstrate that they are very different.
  • The basic interface — the home room, the control menu, the store — are all fairly identical. I think that’s a big selling point, that someone can start on a Go and then easily transition to a Rift or whatever future model.
  • The Go has 3DOF (degrees of freedom) while the Rift has 6DOF. That means on a Go, the three axes of your head movement are tracked; on a Rift, it additionally tracks your position. Big difference for activity games; not a big deal if you’re sitting around watching 3-D videos.
  • There is a single controller with a touchpad where your thumb is, a trigger at your index finger, and two buttons (back and home) below the touchpad. It will sense the position of that controller inside the Go. It usually looks like a laser pointer, which you use to point at various items in the interface. The Rift has two controllers, one on each hand, which is really amazing, but the Go’s controller is pretty handy, too.
  • I’d say the generated graphics quality is maybe on par with a PS3. I haven’t done the math; that’s just my impression. With pre-rendered items, like 360 videos on YouTube or Facebook, it is phenomenally good, incredibly realistic, and when you turn your head and look at another view, it is instantaneous.
  • Generated graphics vary, though. It just doesn’t have the horsepower a PC with a GTX-1080ti does. The best comparison here: an iPad retina has a screen that is as good or better than a high-end gaming rig. Pixel-for-pixel, it’s going to look better, and watching a movie on either one, the iPad screen will probably win. But the iPad doesn’t have the GPU power to run a AAA game at max settings. It’s for casual gaming, and isn’t going to run Overwatch. But you aren’t going to bring your water-cooled tower computer on a plane to watch movies for a cross-country flight, either.
  • The game situation is at best casual on the Go. Not enough horsepower, and the controls and latency won’t work for a Call of Duty type thing. Where it really shines is media consumption, and “experiences” – moving through 360 environments and looking at things.
  • Battery life sucks. It gets maybe two hours at most. It charges from a USB jack.
  • A phone app is used to initially connect to WiFi and to do basic management of the headset, but you don’t need a phone nearby after that point. The phone app is handy for browsing the store and checking your battery level when it’s plugged in and put away.
  • Oculus is Facebook, so it’s somewhat tied into its ecosystem. It’s very easy to view your FB photos, livestream to FB, etc. It could use better integration, though. I’d love a way to check Messenger without going to a web browser.
  • Yes, there’s a web browser in the interface. It’s really weird to be in a room, looking at a big screen with web pages on it.
  • You also have this concept of having a room where friends can meet you and you can chat, watch videos, and play simple board games. I don’t know anybody else with an Oculus, so I haven’t tried this, except to go in my room and change all the artwork and colors and stuff.
  • My favorite game so far is Ultrawings, which is a sort of cartoonish flight simulator with very good simulation. The graphics and music sort of remind me of Diddy Kong Racing on the Nintendo 64, but the flight control is very good, and it works well.
  • I’ve also wasted a lot of time in Viso Places, which is an app that lets you wander around Google Street View data and see everything in 3D. Very strange to be wandering around Bloomington in this, completely immersed.
  • There are two Blade Runner experiences. One has an intro where you are flying in a spinner in downtown LA 2049 at night, when it’s pouring rain. Someone is talking to you on the video phone, the rain is dripping on the windows, and the neon lights are whizzing by next to you, and below you in the windows by your feet. You can look all around the car as it flies, and it is truly incredible.
  • I’ve had no nausea problems, although doing a quick look to the side while doing a barrel roll in a flight game does make me half-dizzy for a second. I’ve also had zero fogging problems with the lenses, a problem I did have on the rift.
  • One strange side effect is you cannot really multitask in VR. If I had a writing program in it, it would be ideal, because I couldn’t open a second window to look at FB, or pull out my phone and start checking stuff. When you’re in it and watching something, that’s all you’re doing.
  • The biggest plus to the Go is that it’s self-contained, and instantly on. No cables, no Windows 10 Updates on the host computer, no power-sucking gaming tower in the corner. If you have a Windows PC, it’s a big ritual to get the computer started, then get the headset plugged in and started. With the Go, you put it on, done. It’s like the comparison between a PC and an iPad. The iPad isn’t going to do everything a PC will, but it’ll be on instantly, and if you just want to mess around, the convenience is amazing. Maybe they could come out with a more expensive model with more horsepower, but they really hit the sweet spot for market penetration here.

Overall, this is the best two hundred bucks I’ve spent on a computer gadget in a long time. Very exciting stuff. I’m not sure if Best Buy is doing demos of the Go, but if they are, check it out. Or go get one on Amazon. And if you have one, drop a line and we can connect inside there, play a game of Boggle or something.

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The 8

It’s that time again – the iPhone no longer holds a charge, and is slower than slow compared to the new ones, so it was off to the Apple store on Saturday for the next iteration of the handheld computer gadget. I got the iPhone 6s in December of 2015, and was thinking of doing the thirty-dollar battery replacement deal and limping along until summer, or maybe when the 8s or the 8+ or whatever comes out. But, whatever. Easier to start new, I guess.

This time, there are more decisions to be made, since there are three different front-line iPhones available: the 8, the larger 8 Plus, and the X. That’s a bit confusing, because it seems like the X would come out after the 9, and the 8 would be long obsolete. Nope. The X is a “special edition” or something. I have no idea what will happen when they go from 8 to 9 to 10. Or maybe they’ll need to do something else. Anyway, I can’t deal with the larger size phone, so the 8 plus and the X were off the table, and the 8 it is.

I still don’t entirely understand how AT&T Next works. I am on some weird plan or sub-plan that required me to turn in my old phone in the next two weeks, and keep paying the $40 a month or whatever for the next 24 months to pay for the new one. I bought AppleCare, bought a new battery case (mostly so I can hold the phone without it slipping out of my hands) and assorted taxes and fees.

What’s odd is that this is the first time I’ve upgraded and had the same screen size, the 4.7″ screen. Each prior upgrade (3G to 5S to 6S) had a change in size. This one is the same, which is slightly underwhelming. In many ways, it feels like the same phone. I even had both phones on my desk the other day, and grabbed the wrong one. It’s not as dramatic as going from a tiny screen to a bigger one of a different aspect ratio.

There are little changes, though. No more headphone jack. I can plug in the included Lightning headphones, which I’ll probably use 99% of the time. There’s a small dongle to plug in standard headphones. I’m not really into Bluetooth earbuds, so I’m not doing that. The only other real change is the home button is slightly different – it isn’t an actual button, but a little dimpled area the size of a button, with haptic feedback. It feels like a button, but won’t get gunk or liquids in there. Oh, stereo speakers are on the bottom now, although I don’t spend a lot of time listening to audio on my phone without being paired to my car or with headphones.

One big difference is that the new phone is much faster. My old one was getting throttled because the battery was dying. The 8 is about twice as fast in benchmarks, but because of the throttling, it’s roughly four times as fast. So scrolling and app launching and whatnot all feel much more responsive. I’m sure I will get used to that in a few days and not notice it anymore, though.

(And I don’t want to get into the argument of “why doesn’t Apple have removable batteries.” Because it’s not 1997. Does the new Samsung Galaxy have a removable battery? Does any phone under a centimeter thick? Does any phone that is even vaguely spill-resistant? It doesn’t come with a floppy disk or S100 expansion bus capability, either. Sorry.)

The other difference is that I optioned up to a 256 GB capacity, up from 64. With 64, I was always within a percent or two from capacity. I also had a byzantine system of playlists to sync only part of my music collection. Now, I have synced all the audio in my iTunes collection, and still have half the phone left. So, time to get more music.

The swap was a bit of a pain in the ass. They activated it as a new phone at the store, then I came home and tried to sync a backup of my old phone onto it. But my phone’s OS was a version newer, so I had to reinstall a new OS to the phone, then wipe it and set it up from backup. I also had to back up, wipe, and restore my watch. All that took a few hours, and syncing over 16,000 songs took a few minutes, but it was otherwise up and running that afternoon.

The strange thing for me is that it’s become slightly easier to let the old phone go. I remember when I replaced my first iPhone, it was bittersweet to return this machine that I’d spent so much time with. But now, it’s like the soul of the machine transfers to the new phone after an upgrade. I’ve still got the same documents, backgrounds, settings, and so on, just in a more robust body. It’s some real Altered Carbon shit.

Anyway, new laptop, new phone, and the iPad is only a year out. The watch is probably the next thing to go, although there’s still a small part of me that thinks I should just get a typewriter and a bunch of index cards and spend the money on a cabin in the mountains or something. The toilet situation is the only thing holding me back, really.

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Podcasting Tools

Now that I’ve done a few episodes of The Koncast, I can give you a rundown of the tools I’m using.

I use two different methods for recording: remote and in-person. Face-to-face is best, but I interview guests all over the place, so I have to do some remotely.

Remote Recording

  • I am using a site called Zencastr to handle remotes. I fire it up in my browser, give the other person a link to open in their browser, and then we talk away over a VoIP connection. At the end of the session, both browsers upload their copy of the audio to Dropbox, and I can later mix the files together.
  • You’ll need Dropbox for this, so go sign up for a free account.
  • A good USB headset works well for this. We’ve been using a few of the Logitech H390 headsets. The quality is decent, and they’re only 25 bucks online.
  • I’ve heard of people using Skype or Facetime with a plugin to record the calls, which would be easier for the other person, but it would sound like skype.
  • The ultimate way to do this would be to set up Skype to use a real microphone and headphones, then have each person record their end of the conversation, but that’s way too complicated for the casual user.

Face-to-Face Recording

  • I’m using a Zoom H5 recorder. It records four tracks, and has a decent X/Y mic built in, plus handles two XLR inputs with phantom power, so you can use real microphones. One thing that’s nicer on this new version versus the previous H4N is that the built-in mic is removable, and you can swap it out for a different Zoom mic, or an attachment to add two more XLR inputs.
  • For microphones, I use a Shure SM-58 per person. It’s a cardioid mic, which only picks up sounds in front of it, and won’t pick up background noises. I’ve messed with a few different condenser mics, and they seem to pick up everything, so every little bump and rustle and background noise is crisply present. The SM-58 is also pneumatically shock-mounted inside. It’s pretty close to its sibling, the SM-57, but it has a pop filter on it. And after a total nuclear war, the only thing that will be left are cockroaches and SM-58s. They can really take a beating. The only caveat on the Shure mics are that there are many counterfeit Chinese ones floating around eBay, so only buy from somewhere reputable.
  • There are a lot of options for mic stands. I wanted a boom mic, so I got two of this Neewer stand. It seems to work okay, although the clamp can be an issue with table thickness. I recorded a few sessions in a hotel that had a table too thick for the c-clamp and I had to find another table. I have a few other stands as backup, but the Neewar ones are decent.
  • I also use two XLR cables, but the SM-58-CN package from Shure includes those. Oh, don’t forget an SD card for the recorder. And I had a pair of Sony headphones already, but you’ll need something similar.

If you want to cheap out, you could get a Zoom H4n instead, or spend $150 on a Focusrite Scarlett interface and record straight into a laptop. I’m sure Behringer has a knock-off version of the SM-58, but I think the microphone makes the difference, and $100 is a good investment in a mic that’s going to last longer than you will.

Mixing/Production

  • I use Logic Pro X to mix together my individual audio tracks and master them down to an MP3 for hosting. Logic costs $200, and is probably overkill, but I already had a copy, so that’s what I use. The Mac comes with Logic’s little brother, GarageBand, which works similarly. You could also use another DAW like Reaper, Reason, Ableton, or Adobe Audition. If you bought an audio interface, it might come with some bundled software. The Zoom H5 comes with Cubase LE, but I’m not sure how the LE version is kneecapped. Audacity is free, but you will end up deleting an entire episode or finding out it isn’t what you want.
  • I used Band in a Box to record my theme music. Also had a copy of that laying around. BTW, the song is the Thelonius Monk jazz standard “Let’s Cool One.”

Hosting

  • I’m using LibSyn to host. You get a monthly upload quota, and then it’s unlimited downloads for everyone. It creates an RSS feed of your episodes, which you can then submit to iTunes or Google Play and tell people to go subscribe. You can also connect Facebook and whatnot, so it puts the links there. And it provides a basic blog of your episodes, so people can go there and see them.
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New iPad

Thanks to a generous gift card from Sarah for my birthday, I ended up at the Apple Store, upgrading my iPad again. I was really on the fence about upgrading at all, because there’s a rumor they will be updating in March, but there’s another rumor that there’s a massive 10nm chip shortage that’s going to push back the release significantly. And I’m far enough behind the curve with my circa-2012 iPad 4 that anything would be a big upgrade.

My big dilemma was whether to get the 9.7-inch iPad Pro or the 12.9-inch. I ended up choosing the smaller one, partly because of price, and partly because the 12.9 is a bit ungainly for me, slightly heavy and hard to type on. Also, it really feels like I’d bend it in half at some point, like the first time I put it in a computer bag. So I went with the 9.7, but I did option up to 128GB of storage.

I don’t use an iPad that much to need a Pro version, but this is an oddball side effect of the horrible market segmentation going on at Apple right now. There are essentially four different iPads in three different sizes right now, and none of that makes any sense. What is the difference between an iPad Air 2 and an iPad Pro 9.7? Better processor, better screen, better cameras, the smart connector, the use of the pencil, and better speakers. But why make those two different lines? It’s confusing, and it reminds me of the mid-90s, when there were three dozen different Centris and Quadro and Duo and Fucko models of the Mac, back when Apple really sucked.

As far as the not using part, I really have/had high hopes for the smart connector thing, because bluetooth keyboards are always a pain in the ass, especially charging them. But the $170 keyboard that Apple sells is hot garbage. It feels like typing on an Atari 400, and you have to use it on a table. I want something I can use in my lap, but I don’t know what one that is yet.

I don’t write on the iPad, but I do think about it. For a while a few years ago, I would only take the iPad and a keyboard on trips, and try writing that way. But now, it’s just as easy to bring my MacBook Pro with me, and have access to all my writing at once. I wouldn’t mind using the iPad more for notes, or for a distraction-free writing device.

I also ordered an Apple Pencil online, after deciding not to in the store. Maybe I can use the Paper app to sketch out ideas. A million years ago, I had a Toshiba Windows tablet with a pen, and had huge plans to use OneNote and plot out books and take notes, and I never did shit with it. Maybe this will be the same, but who knows.

Overall, the upgrade, which is about four or five times faster, seems nice and snappy. The new screen is much better looking. And it’s odd that it is physically smaller overall, but has the same screen size. I expect that in a week, I won’t notice the speed jump at all, which is what happened when I upgraded from the gen-one to the four. Still, very nice birthday gift to myself.

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New Camera

I finally upgraded DSLRs last week. This was a nagging thing with a convoluted thought process, something like this:

  • I should save a ton of money and get a full-frame DSLR / that’s too much money to blow on someone who doesn’t take a thousand pictures a day.
  • I should upgrade to the newer version of the Rebel camera / that’s not that much of an upgrade, and I don’t use my DSLR that much, because of weight/size/fear of getting it damaged or stolen.
  • I should look into these mirrorless cameras like the Fuji or Sony, because so many people are ditching DSLRs for these / I can’t deal with an LCD screen viewfinder in the sun and with my eyesight, and I have a lot of Canon lenses I’d be junking.
  • I could buy the Canon EOS-M3 mirrorless with an eyepiece viewfinder, and it can use my lenses with an adaptor / I bought an EOS-M1 and it’s a huge regret.
  • I should just use my fucking iPhone and realize I’m not a photographer and nobody looks at this shit anyway.
  • Maybe I’d be a photographer if I bought a full-frame DSLR.
  • etc.

Pressing the issue: a bunch of amazon credit card points, an upcoming trip to London. So I gave up and bought the Canon Rebel T6i. My previous DSLR was the Canon Rebel XS, which I got on my birthday in 2010, and took about 11,000 pictures with in six years, which either seems insanely high or pretty low, depending your experience level. I got in at exactly the wrong time with the Rebel, right before they got high megapixel counts, fold-out screens, really good autofocus, and video. So the new camera is a pretty big step up.

Interesting things about this one: the new STM kit lens seems much faster autofocusing, and is way quieter. There is a flip-out video screen, which makes live-view shooting much easier. The screen is a capacitive-touch, so you can swipe and touch focus points, which is neat. There is built-in wifi, which I will never use. And there’s video, which is actually pretty decent, especially the autofocus.

Minor nits: the battery is a new, proprietary Canon one, with a chip in it, so third-party clone batteries don’t work properly. It will complain, and then the battery level gauge won’t work. This would be less of an issue if Canon batteries were not sixty bucks each.

I think the biggest thing is that despite the wiz-bang features, this feels like an incremental upgrade, like the pictures aren’t astounding; they’re just pictures of whatever I point it at. A new camera doesn’t change what’s around me, or my skill level. It’s still collecting light through the same lenses (and one new one) and aside from the various future-proofing stuff, it’s still my responsibility to put something interesting in front of the lens.

I brought the new gear to the Rockies-Giants game last week, shot a few hundred snaps, but wasn’t happy with any of it. I’ve taken so many pictures at AT&T that I’m bored of it, and although I had suite tickets and could get down to the dugout area, I was too late for batting practice. Weather was too cloudy too. I did like the game (Rockies won, ate a lot) but not a good photo op. I’m hoping to get some good work in while I’m in the UK, though.

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The Latest S

Another two years have passed. My iPhone wouldn’t hold a charge more than half a day anymore, and I got annoyed at carrying an external battery charger everywhere. So this week, it was off to the Apple Store to trade in the old 5s for the new 6s.

First things first: I do not understand what the hell is going on with upgrading phones. I’m on AT&T, and it used to be you had a contract, you did your two years of time, then you came in and got a $700 phone for $200 or $300 and the promise to re-up for another two years. I realize phones are not “free” and you pay for that $500 subsidy over time. I recently moved to a different plan and gave up my unlimited data plan so I could use tethering, which was probably a mistake, especially since everything is streaming or in the cloud now. But anyway, I was under the assumption this upgrade deal would continue, and the AT&T web site made it look like it would.

But once I got to the store, they said no. I was given three options: pay $750 for an unlocked phone, join AT&T Next and pay an extra $25 a month for the phone and be locked in for 30 months with an option to swap phones at 24 months, or use Apple’s financing to pay some amount (maybe like $25, I don’t know and I’m too lazy to look it up) and then trade up every year. There is allegedly some discount on the AT&T Next thing if you have a newer plan, probably with a lower data amount — I don’t even fucking know. All I know is my cell phone bill went up like 25% for no real reason, but I did end up not paying for the entire phone up front. So they have made it so you pay the same price for not getting the phone subsidy, or you can pay extra to get the subsidy, which is total bullshit. I have a feeling if I would have said “Yeah, I’m not upgrading at all today and keeping my old shit phone” they would have charged me another $25 a month to do that.

Anyway. I jumped from 5s to 6s. The biggest thing about the 6s is the phone itself – it moved from the 4” to the 4.7” size. I looked at the 6s+, and it seemed far too big for a phone. The 6s is honestly too big for me. It’s also very slippery and I’m almost sure I would drop it within the first day if I didn’t get a rubbery case for it. I haven’t dropped an iPhone ever, but I’m certain I won’t make it six months with this one without face-planting it, hopefully not on concrete. The move of the lock button to the right side is also awkward to me, and touching anything at the top of the screen is a chore when holding the phone in one hand. Maybe I should have gone to the larger size and just completely given up on ever using it with one hand. I like the small amount of extra screen real estate, but honestly, there are rumors of a 4” next-gen phone, and I’d almost consider that when the next upgrade cycle happens (and who knows when the hell that is now, with this stupid contract I signed.)

The 6s is faster. It’s much faster, but I’m sure I won’t notice it in a week or so, and it will be the new normal. But the touch ID is remarkably fast. Battery life is about the same. There is the new 3D Touch feature, which detects finger pressure and opens little pop-up windows for frequently-used functions. This feature is largely useless to me, and is the equivalent to when right-clicking was introduced in Windows 95. It meant that some but not all things had a weird right-click menu on it, and you never knew what you could do unless you experimented forever to find these “bonus” menus in odd places, and who has time for this shit.

The camera is a big upgrade, going from 8 to 12 MP on the rear, and 1 to 5 on the front, with better sensors (really the important part, not megapixels) and the video moving to 4K. I haven’t had a chance to do much with the camera yet, but I used my iPhone as camera for most of my vacation pictures over Thanksgiving, so I see myself doing that going forward.

Upgrade was smooth, going from a backup. I had a phone with no music and no stuff on it for the drive home, which was the same as last time. But this time, I also had a watch that was similarly dead (although it could still tell time and everything) because my watch was now paired to an old phone that had been wiped and traded in. The one snag I had moving forward was that Apple Music and the iTunes Cloud crap meant that no music was syncing on the device anymore, and I was streaming everything. I had to fuck around forever with making playlists available offline, and I’m still not sure they are. Apple really needs to figure that shit out.

There’s always been an odd emotional reaction when the old phone gets wiped, shut off, and shoved in an envelope to go off to the recycling plant. My phone never leaves me, has everything on it, and there’s always a close emotional bond to it, as stupid as that sounds. My phones end up going to many states and countries, held to my face for many long phone calls, and tapped away for literally years of online interaction.

This strange nostalgia seems to happen less and less now with each upgrade cycle; I remember it being horrible the first time I traded in my broken iPhone 3G for a new one, after only nine months of use. Now, it’s not as big of a thing. With the cloud stuff and upgrade process, it’s more like a digital soul is being pulled from one host and dumped into another, because the new phone had the same old layout and data and preferences, but in a shiny new case.

Makes me wish I could do that with my own body at some point. Isn’t Kurzweil done with that shit yet?

 

 

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New (Old) Kindle

I bought a new Kindle, but an old Kindle. It’s actually a Kindle DX, the large-screen variety, which is long discontinued, but for some reason, Amazon occasionally has them in stock, through “Amazon Warehouse,” whatever that is.

I am not really a fan of ebooks. I gave it an honest go back in 2010 or so, bought a lot of my favorite published authors at crazy markup prices, like buying Vonnegut classics at ten bucks a pop. But I found reading fiction to be difficult on a Kindle. Because everything is the same font, and the device always has the same feel, the same heft in your hand, it removes the experience of reading the book, and I typically retain nothing I read on a Kindle. I went back to paper, and I’m fine with that, mostly. There are more titles available, it’s often cheaper in the long run, and there’s something about going to a physical book store that I miss when I’m simply e-hoarding books online.

But, there’s a big problem with space, and allergies. I’m finding that old books, ones infested with dust and mites, make me incredibly sick. I simply cannot buy a fifty-year-old paperback from a used book store, because the moment I open the browning pages, I have a horrible allergy attack. Yes, I take the medicine and I get the shots, but I’ve pretty much exhausted the medical possibilities. I just can’t read old books. And now, I’m finding my “new” books are all old. I pulled a Kerouac book of letters the other day, just for a quick skim, and it made me sick. And I “just” bought that book, but when I checked the receipt stashed inside, and it’s twenty years old. So I don’t know what to do about that.

It’s nice to not have the clutter involved with collections. I was religious about collecting CDs and DVDs, and they took up a good amount of my apartment when I was single. After I got married, and after the technology of MP3s and streaming video took off, I ripped everything, and junked or stored away all optical media. I don’t really miss it, and I’m glad I have the space. But books are more difficult for me.

I have issues with current e-readers, too. I love e-ink displays. The first few iterations of Kindle had less refined screens, a lower PPI count, the weird black-flashing issue with a slow refresh speed, and some slight ghosting of old images. There are new ones with higher PPI, better resolution, and backlighting. But they’re all the smaller screens. As my eyes go, I really want a big screen. Ideally, I would want an 8.5×11 screen. This also helps with PDFs, which you really want to not get downscaled or zoomed weird.

But, the big-screen e-ink readers just don’t exist. Sony has one in Japan, that’s insanely expensive, like $800 or something. And there are one or two cheapie made-in-China ones that are half-broke, hard to buy, and still pretty pricy. Every year, there are CES rumors of a big-screen reader, but these are always vaporware, and — huge pet peeve of mine — put out the idea that there are big-screen readers. But what you see at CES is never what you get, and they simply aren’t out there.

I don’t think the masses want a paperwhite e-ink display. They want a tablet, something like an iPad that can play games, show a video, and do things best left to a color screen that eats batteries. I have an iPad, and they’re great, but I can’t read on it. It causes too much eyestrain, and I’m also convinced that heavy use of a screen right before bed causes bad sleep hygiene. Almost all of my reading takes place in the hour or two before sleep, so I can’t deal with an iPad. That’s where paper has been great, and where a big e-ink display could be helpful.

So I hunted down the Kindle DX, and I found this one on Amazon. It was only $140, which was a steal, compared to the original $400-ish list price five years ago. This is the Kindle DX Graphite, which has the 3G connection, no WiFi, and the second-gen DX display, which is “50% improved.” It has roughly the same lineage as the third-gen Kindle Keyboard, but less RAM inside. No backlighting, no apps, no touchscreen.

Although the Amazon page made it sound like this was a used model or maybe a refurb, this was a new-in-sealed-box model, with plastic on it and everything. The only snags I found was that it did not come with an AC adaptor, just the USB cable. (Not a problem, I have 784 110V-to-USB adapters around here.) But it also would not register to the Whispernet network, and the wireless appeared dead. I gave them a call, they asked me for the serial number and a few other things (IMEI, something else) and then after a reboot, it connected wirelessly and all my stuff was ready to go.

My main use for this, at least initially, is to read PDFs. I have a giant archive of UFO docs and conspiracy theory stuff, FOIA requests and declassified government reports, and it will be nice to plop all those onto this thing. The screen is 5.5×8, so almost the size of a paperback book. It’s much easier to read than the original one I have. So I will give it another go.

It’s oddly nostalgic for me to look back at the documents that were waiting for me on the Kindle. I got my original Kindle in 2009, and toward the end of my Samsung tenure, spent a lot of my lunch time reading science fiction books on it. Also, when I started my allergy shot regimen in 2010, I would bring the Kindle and get a lot of reading done there. I had horrible writer’s block then, didn’t know what would be next for my writing, so I was reading a lot of Philip K. Dick books for inspiration, and also a lot of schlocky how-to-write books, which were useless. The Kindle font, and the general layout of the thing, the dark grey letters and the LCD-like background color, remind me so much of reading those books. But I can’t really remember much about them. So, we’ll see how this works out.

 

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