Thursday, September 09, 2010

Oops, Bad User Experience

If you have been, "at the heart of the blogging and social media revolution since 2001", one expects a little more attention to design. You don't have to be all wiz-bang and ajaxy, but anticipating user expectations is something you should be able to do.

So I was rather aghast when visiting Six Apart's website to find that their nice thumbnail grid highlighting their premier clients wasn't actually clickable.

All those cute thumbnails of blogs you're just dieing to check out? Not actually links. Sorry, can you explain that to me? They show me the blogs, but then don't let me go to them? What bone head came up with that idea?

How hard would it have been to do an old school image-map? Oh, right, the image is actually hidden in the CSS. I guess that makes it easier to switch the CSS for mobile users, but since when was easy part of a good design process? So it seems we are dealing with either a lazy designer, or a clueless manager. Even so, how hard would it have been to recognize that your viewers might like to check out some of those blogs? How hard would it have been to add one little link below the thumbnail grid that links to a list of premier clients?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Windows Is OK Too You Know!

Ken Rockwell likes taking little digs at us poor Windows users and today he pointed out that Apple's built in image viewer is a good tool for viewing RAW files and can also do some small edits.

Well, that's nice, but Windows users have some free apps that do that, and do it better than Apple I think. Raw Therapee (THExperimental RAPhoto Editor) is a FREE full featured RAW viewer and editor that runs on both Windows and Linux. I reviewed it a few years ago and it looks like it has only gotten better since then.

As for a system wide image viewer that works with RAW files, there is Google Picasa. It is a free viewer that is great for organizing images and has some decent editing tools as well. But what really shines is that you can set it as your default system image viewer. If you double click an image, Picasa Photo Viewer will instantly launch and display the image. It works with JPEGs, GIFs, PNGs, TIFFs, and RAW files. You can scroll through all the images in the same directory using the arrow keys. It also lets you zoom in, star, rotate, upload, email, and edit in Picasa.

Picasa is my favorite photo organizer, but for series editing I use Adobe Lightroom. It is not free, but it is well worth it for quickly editing a lot of image with very powerful tools. It uses the same RAW processor that Photoshop uses but is much better tuned to working with a lot of images. Lightroom 3 Beta is available free now, but will only function until June 30, 2010, so grab it now and take it for an extended test drive.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Review: Air Hogs Atom

The Air Hogs Atom is a truly tiny RC helicopter, it fits inside the controller! It is also very cheap, $30 at Target. It is also highly detailed and very rugged.

That is where the good news ends though. It does not fly very well. Both my four year old son and I can get it to hover relatively well, but it is too jittery and unstable to get it to fly in any one direction. It goes where it wants, but mostly stays in one limited area, slowly turning in circles. This is after I twist the trim knob on the controller to stop it from just madly spinning which is does every time I turn it on. It spins and spins, don't be shy about twisting the trim knob, it takes about a dozen full twists before it settles down.

Air Hogs Atom
Storm Trooper to indicate scale. Look how small it is!
Even though I can't fly it around like the Air Hogs Sharp Shooter, I still think it is a lot of fun. This little helicopter is really tough too, my son bangs it off the ceiling, the walls, the floor, the book case, my face, anything that gets in the way. And the little heli just keeps on going!

The instability might come from this heli having only one rotor, the type that has two is much more stable, like the Air Hogs Sharp Shooter. Or I might have gotten a lemon.

Tip: don't forget to turn the heli off before charging, it will not take a full charge if it is on.

Air Hogs Sharp Shooter Review

I did not expect much from this little RC helicopter, but I am now impressed. It took me maybe Three or four flights before I developed a good degree of control of  the Air Hogs Sharp Shooter, but now I can fly it with confidence. It's not perfect, but for $35 it is quite a great toy. My four year old has never really gotten the hang of flying this one, he is better with the Air Hogs Atom which is much smaller, more durable, but really can only hover, not fly around.

The Sharp Shooter is stable, but slow. I can fly it all around the house, but it takes patients and a lot of directional correction. It gets banged up a lot, but has only superficial damage.


  • Tough
  • Very Stable
  • Just over 7 minute flight time
  • Highly realistic model
  • It shoots!
  • It takes a long time to charge (at least 30 minutes)
  • It takes a subtle touch to control well
  • Control is not always predictable
Air Hogs Sharp Shooter
Storm Trooper is used to give a sense of scale.
Flying tip - Don't count on it always turning as quickly as you expect, sometimes it is easier to spin around in the opposite direction to get it pointed where you want.

The Air Hogs Sharp Shooter is available at Amazon and Target.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Ken Rockwell on DSLR Sensor Cleaning

Love him or hate him, Ken Rockwell calls 'em they way he sees 'em and I find is point of view refreshing and useful. But this note he wrote on November 29th, 2009 Ken Rockwell, is a just flat out FUD and it's disappointing to see it coming from Ken.

I'd never, ever touch my sensor. I personally know people who really have destroyed $5,000 cameras when they tried sensor swabs or whatever other Hillbilly junk is out there for do-it-yourselfers. If I can't get it off with a Shop-Vac or blower bulb, I send my camera back to its manufacturer.
If you try touching your sensor with anything, you'll just as likely wind up sending you camera to meet its maker in a different sense.
This is the email I sent him in response:
SUBJECT LINE: I clean my senor, yes I do
Actually no, I don't clean my sensor. I clean the glass that sits on my sensor.
I'm sorry to say this Ken, but you really are helping to spread the FUD that surrounds senor cleaning and that is a disservice to your readers.
Are you afraid of cleaning your windows? Do you pay someone $100 to clean one square inch of glass?
I've cleaned my D70 at least half a dozen times with sensor swabs and cleaning solution from VisibleDust ( that I bought at B&H Photo.
You are lucky to live and shoot in a dry climate. But here in the Northeast, I work outside in and around flowing water. It is a moist environment. In this environment, moister and dust combine to make very sticky particles that just will not come off the senor by blowing on it. The moisture essentially welds the dust onto the sensor.
Camera shops love this business, it's basically highway robbery. My local camera shop charges $110 and keeps the camera for a week to clean the sensor. I spent about $50 on cleaning supplies that will last a dozen cleanings. It takes me about ten minutes to clean my sensor. At home. Whenever it needs it. An honest camera shop would charge $15 or $20 and do it while you wait.
I enjoy your site and have learned a lot from it, thank you.
Best regards,
James Fryer
 I received no response which is understandable, he no doubt gets loads of emails everyday. And I don't need a response, what I need is for him to not post any more harmful information.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

What photo gear to travel with

Determining the right photographic equipment to bring when traveling can be a painful balancing act. Bring too much and you will not only hurt you back and miss a lot of shots as you juggle lenses, but will no doubt be subjected to the unapproving gaze of your spouse. Bring too little and you are constantly haunted by the shot 'that might have been' had you only had the perfect lens, filter, body, flash, etc.

Nikon D70
Nikon 60mm Macro
Sigma 10-20mm

Nikon N75
Nikon 28-200mm
Nikon 24mm

Nikon FG
Nikon 100mm
Nikon 24mm
I've got it easy, I like wide and macro. I bring only my super wide angle Sigma 10-20mm and my Nikon 60mm Macro (also doubles as a short telephoto, but the 105mm would be better still). If I want to go crazy (and I usually do), I throw in my small and lite 35mm f1.8, a great lens for candid and low light. Actually, a great lens all around and a worthy choice all by itself because it is small, lite, and offers a nice balance of not being too wide or too long.

The conventional wisdom says to just bring the super zoom. Sure, Nikon's 18-200mm has won praise and does seem to have it all. But is doesn't. First: it's huge, second: it's slow - f3.5-5.6 (Okay, for this range that is impressive, but still it's slow compared to primes): third: the wide end has so much barrel distortion that it borders on being a fish-eye. But, it does offer good macro performance.

Another option to make sure your are carrying what you will actually shoot with is get all your favorite photographs into a program like Lightroom or Picasa. Both these programs (and most others) will show you a lot of the detail recorded as meta data in each image. You can look through and see what your most used focal lengths are and that should be a good indicator as to what lenses you should bring.

In Picasa, you can see this data by double clicking on an image (so it fills the window) and then click on the little propeller beanie in the lower right side. In Lightroom, switch to the Library module and expand the Metadata tab on the right. The data might not be available if you have already processed the photo, saving the image will often strip this data from the file.

But maybe you need to go with as little gear as possible, maybe only one lens. That can be a tough call, unless you think outside the box a little. Here's my advice for going lite, find your single favorite lens and pack that. Don't worry if it's a macro or ultra wide angle, or long telephoto. You won't regret taking your favorite lens because, well, it's your favorite lens right? Now, to make up for what ever you are missing, grab your point and shoot.

Yep, it's that simple. Stop worrying about every shot being perfect, you'll get great shots with your big DSLR paired to your favorite lens, you will get the shots you really want and they will be great. For everything else, there will be that small point and shoot that is smaller than even an external flash for your DSLR. It will likely cover a wide range from wide angle to telephoto.

Other benefits of caring that point and shoot:

  • Video: Not only video, but good, easy video. Sure, some new DSLRs do video now, but they don't do it very well unless you have a film (as in motion picture film) degree and a boat load of lenses.
  • Range: Even modest point and shoot cameras have 3 to 6 times zooms, with 8 to 12 times zoom becoming more common. There are lot of compromises in these designs, but again, this is just to catch all the other stuff that is outside you main interest. And most have very good macro modes.
  • Options: Having a second, less expensive and much smaller camera gives you options. There may be times when traveling that you don't want to lug around a big clunky DLSR, or when it is not safe or just not feasible. But you can always slip that point and shoot into your pocket and remember, the best camera is the one you have with you.
  • More Options: There are a lot of water proof and ruggedized point and shoots coming out now. How about that, can your DSLR shoot under water or can you drop it six feet without breaking? What could be worse than a broken camera on vacation? That's a rhetorical question, I really don't want you to answer that.

I have a great little Canon A720 IS. Unfortunately it is no longer available, but Canon has plenty of similar cameras. Its focal range is equivalent to 35-210mm, does great macro, is relatively fast with a maximum aperture of f2.8, and has Image Stabilization to really boost it's low light performance. And shooting at ISO 80 and reducing its resolution from 8 to 5 or 3 mega pixels does help reduce the noise inherent with small point and shoot sensors.

Paired with my Sigma 10-20mm, I have an equivalent range of 15-210mm in much less space than what most people need for the equivalent of 28-300mm.

My point and shoot is also a great companion to the all around 35mm f1.8 (52.5mm equivalent) on my Nikon D70. I can pull it out when I need to go a little wider, or a whole lot longer.

Most DSLRs use the cropped sensor, so the lens length is different on these, but if you are lucky enough to have one of the professional level 'full frame' DSLRs, my favorite travel lens is a 24mm. It is great for architecture and people. I can shoot one person from head to toe, or a group of people without having to move back 30 feet. It lets me stay with them, almost like I'm part of the family and not just the photographer. You know, so I can actually be with my family on vacation. It won't do head shots though. Well, it will, you can get close enough, but you won't like the results. For that, and real low light situations, add a small and lite 50mm. If you still feel the need for the long telephoto, add a point and shoot. The Nikon 24mm is not much bigger than the Nikon 50mm and when paired to an Nikon N75, takes up very little space and needs only a small bag to carry. Yes, that's right, that's a film camera. Guess what, it works great for travel (and it is a lot cheaper than a full frame DSLR). The body is much smaller and so are older prime lenses so your whole kit gets much smaller. Sure, I have to carry around film, but I find it a lot easier to stash a few roles of film on my person than to make room for a big DSLR and its correspondingly huge lenses. And old film bodies are so cheap that you really don't have to worry about them. If they break or get lost, it is not the end of the world.

The N75 and its lenses are relatively large in comparison to a rangefinder and its lenses. If ultra portability is the goal, you really can't beat a rangefinder. But, they don't have any really long telephoto lenses, so if that's you bag, give rangefinders a pass.

And of course, you could just go with a point and shoot. The Panasonic LX3 is, by all accounts, a phenomenal camera, but it has very short range, 24-60mm. There are plenty of other great options these days. It seems like the camera makers have finally stopped with their insane megapixel arms race and are not making some cameras that really are better. Canon has done a nice job with the new G11 and the S90.

There is also a whole new field of cameras with good interchangeable lenses based on the micro four-thirds sensor, the Panasonic Lumix GF1 being my favorite. The Olympus PEN E-P1 being another favorite. Both are significantly smaller than a DSLR. Their sensors are in between a consumer DSLR and a point and shoot, but the image quality is much closer to that of the DSLR. These are essentially the modern version of the old range finders, and in the right hands, I have seen some startlingly good results.

Please, do yourself a favor and don't buy that ridiculous camera backpack. Do your really want to lug that to the top of a mountain, or even a small hill. Pack lite, pack to go, be ready to shoot. Don't waste time switching lenses. Don't risk dropping your prized lenses into a 1000 foot chasm. First and foremost, have fun when you travel, engage with the people around you and use only your single best camera with your signal best lens to get those truly memorable shots. Don't waste time with all the trivial shots everyone else is trying to get. Better to come back with three grade A shots that you print out and hang on your wall than 2000 snapshots that won't every go past your hard drive.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Showing Photographs at Northern Westchester Hospital

My work will be on display at the Northern Westchester Hospital in Mt. Kisco, New York from September 24th 2009 through March 15th 2010.

In response to the call for, "calm, peaceful, joyful, uplifting, colorful, bright, abstract or realistic", I picked several images from my water series and one large rose.

The reception for friends and family is on October 3rd, 2009 from 3pm to 5pm.

Arts & Edibles in Memory of Jonathan D. Pfeffer - 2009

I am participating in the second annual Arts & Edibles Fund Raiser in Memory of Jonathan D. Pfeffer benefiting the Lexington Center for Recovery.

I will have three photographs on display at Spinelli's Italian Restaurant in Mount Kisco on September 13th, 2009 from 2pm to 6pm.

Tickets cost $35 prior to the event and $40 at the door. For sponsorship information, artist participation or to purchase tickets, call (914) 666-0191 or visit the Lexington Center for Recovery web site.

Two trolleys will wind around the trail, making stops at various local restaurants at which attendees may dine on tasty treats. While enjoying the local cuisine, trolley riders can browse and purchase artwork from Hudson Valley artists on display at each location.

Participating restaurants include:

  • A Taste of Jamaica
  • Basilico
  • Big Apple Bagels
  • Cafe of Love
  • French American Bistro
  • La Camilia
  • Lefteris Gyro
  • Lexington Square Cafe
  • Mango Cafe
  • Passage to India
  • Pierros
  • Spinelli's
  • Starbucks
  • Temptation Tea House
  • The Fish Cellar
  • Tuscan Oven
  • Via Vanti
  • Woody's on Main

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cheap hotels and motels are better than fancy five star hotels

I have traveled a lot, both professionally and for pleasure. I have stayed at some complete dives as well as some great places, including five star hotels. Fancy hotels and five star hotels have been OK, from my point of view, worthy of only three stars. The cheap hotels and motels are generally first rate, four or five stars.

When I am traveling, I have simple needs. I want a clean room with a good shower and free WiFi. Nail those things and you get four stars. If your hotel/motel has a great location or the staff is especially helpful and friendly, you get another star.

Now let me pick on a couple of the five star hotels I've stayed at:

Ritz Carlton, South Beach
Sure, it was swanky, but they missed the details and that is what makes the difference between good and perfection. Location was good. But, the bathroom door was broken as was one of the side tables, that's pretty tacky, -1. No free WiFi, super tacky, -1. We checked in late with a tired two year old. We wanted to go straight to bed, but a knock at the door at 10pm wakes the baby. It's a steward with a some late night night complementary snack or something. Hello, we just checked in with a tired two year old! Thanks for waking him up, now get out! -1. Five minus three leaves you with two stars, bravo.

Wynn, Las Vegas
Impressive if odd designed rooms, very, very big, very spacious, totally over the top. The bathroom was bigger than most motel rooms I've stayed at. Not my style, but it is top tier for what it is. We had some trouble when checking in as well as some billing issues, but the staff were very responsive and acted with a great deal of professionalism. They knew they were working at a five star hotel and were more than up to the challenge. Rooms were clean, shower was great. But, no free WiFi, very tacky, -1. Seriously, it costs you next to nothing to offer this to your guests, you offer free HD TVs with free cable, that costs considerably more than free internet access. And the internet access charge was not all that much, so it is not like it's a big profit center, it's just tacky. Tacky, tacky, tacky. That leaves the Wynn as a four star.

Some Nameless Five Star Hotel in Shenzhen, China
I went there in 2000 and only stayed there one night and I just can't remember anything about it other than it cost me a whopping $34, it was beautiful, and the staff were great. I have vague recollection that it did have free (or maybe really, really cheap) wired internet access (2000 would have been a little early for WiFi). OK, fair enough, that really was a five star hotel.

Compared to The Holiday Inn Express in Quakertown, PA
Clean room, free WiFi, friendly staff, and though I have not tried the shower yet, the best lit bathroom I've ever seen. It's like a professional lighting studio. Not only is the WiFi free, it's also trouble free, no stupid sign in screens. I hopped on the network from both my iPod touch and my laptop. It's a little early to be calling this one, but it's at least a four star with a good chance of another star.

See, what is comes down to is, you just have to make me comfortable and happy. Oh, and don't be tacky.

What really annoys me is that all the fancy hotels have free cable TV, but I honestly can't remember the last time I turned on a TV in a hotel room. Yet, the one cheap thing that I really want, free WiFi, I have to pay for. And I have to pay for it each day. The cost is usually $10 to $15 a day. So, in as little as three days, I get to pay the hotel for internet access as much as I pay at home for a whole month!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Texas Furniture Makers Show 2009

Ten years! The TENTH Annual Texas Furniuture Makers Show will be held in Kerrville, TX and run from October 22 to December 5, 2009.

More information and entry form can be found at the KACC web site.

The Kerr Art & Culture Center has rounded up another great set of judges for this year's show:

  • Jonathan Binzen of New Milford, CT is a nationally known craftsman, author, contributing editor for Fine Woodworking Magazine and photographer specializing in furniture and architecture.
  • Spider Johnson of Mason, TX is a professional artist, writer, furniture maker, wood marquetry master and musician.
  • Curtis Whittington of Boerne, TX is a professional furniture maker and master craftsman.
Two dozen woodworkers have already been accepted into the show during the early registration period. If you are a Texas furniture maker, hurry to get your entry application in before August 15th.

As in past years, there will be a review with the judges the day after the reception. This is one the the smartest and most valuable programs any furniture show anywhere does.

Also, this year's continuing education will be, "The Contemporary Scene in Handmade Furniture" by show judge Jonathan Binzen.

The reception and awards ceremony will be on November 7th, 2009.

Cash Awards:
First Place - Best in Show: $1000
Best Craftsman Award: $750
Best Design Award: $750
Best Contemporary Style Furniture: $750
Best Traditional Style Furniture: $750
Best Texas Style Furniture: $750
Best Whimsical / Art Furniture Style: $750
Woodcraft's People's Choice: $300
Best Apprentice Furniture Maker: $250
Hill Country Turner's Choice Award: $100