Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Need to test in different browsers?

The fact is, different web browsers can display the same page differently. For this reason, web designers have to test HTML web page designs in all the common web browsers or face the very real possibility that the page they design will break. It is a tedious and remarkably annoying process. But it is easier then it was. In the old days, a designer would need to have a couple of different test computers stashed in the office because, if you wanted to see how a page 'rendered' on a Mac, well, you needed a Mac. If he wanted to see how it rendered on an earlier version of Internet Explorer, he needed a different computer for each version! Windows can not run more then one version of Internet Explorer.

There really was no way around this because no browser is fully compliant with HTML or CSS standards. Though Microsoft is, by far, the least compliant and at the same time, the most buggy.
Thankfully, things have gotten easier. Internet Explorer 7 is better (not good, just better) then it was. For some reason, Apple released a version of Safari for Windows. And a few months ago, I found MultipleIEs. It is a hack (fully packaged for super easy installation) that lets me install, you guessed it, multiple versions of Internet Explorer on one Windows computer.
What a relief.
Of course, it would be a lot easier if people would just stop using Internet Explorer all together. Come on guys, you can do it!

Why I love Techbirt

Techdirt is a very smart blog about creativity and laws that govern it. But I love it because the writers are clever and often, just downright funny. Like today, writing about a stupid copyright infringement case, Mike Masnick writes, "I have to admit that I don't watch reality TV or follow what's the latest in reality TV shows. I hear people talking about them, but it seems like half of them blend together with something about models who sing while cooking and designing fashions for eligible bachelors as an angry British guy yells at them and they hope they don't get voted off the island. Sometimes Donald Trump appears."

I laugh every time I read that.
Hmmm... I've just had an idea for a new reality TV show!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

New Impressions Art Show

I have eight photographs hanging in the New Impressions Art Show at the Mt. Pleasant Library. The gallery hours are:

Monday, Tuesday, Thurdays - 10:00 am - 9:00 pm
Wednesday - 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
Friday & Saturday - 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
Sunday - 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm
The reception is on November 15th, 2008 - 2:00 - 4:00 pm.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Pleasantville Beaux Arts

Today I hung the Pleasantville Beaux Arts show and I will be judging it with John this Monday. The show will be open the rest of the week and the reception will be Saturday, Nov. 8th at the Pleasantville Library.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Browser Wars 3.0?

Holy smokes! I thought the browser wars had come to a standstill with Internet Explorer as the raining champ (as far as market share goes) with Firefox slowly, but consistently nibbling away at that lead.

But suddenly, out pops Google Chrome. A browser I took for a whirl and forgot to stop using. Sure it's a bit glitchy as any beta program would be, but the speed and UI advances suite me so well that I am willing to overlook its shortcomings.
And of course, there is Safari for both the Mac and Windows. The windows version is surprisingly appealing. It did not drag me away from Firefox (like Chrome did), but I fire it more often then I do Internet Explorer.
And let us not forget Opera. The perennial 'also ran' that never gets much love but for a few fringe fanboys, has slowly morphed into a nearly prime time read app with some markedly nice and unique features. Features that other, more successful browsers had no quibbles about 'borrowing'. I may not be an Opera fanboy, but I sure have to give them the nod for coming up with a lot of brilliant stuff.
So, the original browser war (let's for the moment put Mosaic aside) was between Netscape and Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer won that war. It won based on a two prong attack: 1. Microsoft illegally leveraged it's operating system monopoly to intimidated PC makers from shipping new PCs with any browser but Internet Explorer. 2. Microsoft actually invested in making Internet Explorer a good browser. Internet Explorer 4 was truly better then Netscape. Then Netscape assisted Microsoft here by sending its own browser to new lows. Remember Netscape 6? Worst browser ever?
Round one of the browser wars goes to Microsoft.
Round two starts very much where round one left off. Firefox rises out of the ashes of Netscape and diddles around for a few years making itself into a usable browser, but posses no immediate threat to Internet Explorer. Fact is, the only real threat to Internet Explorer turns out to be Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer pretty much hit its zenith with 4. Following iterations ad bloat, bugs, headaches, and proprietary Microsoft crap.
I don't recall the exact build, but around .9, Firefox becomes what Netscape never was, an Internet Explorer killer. I switched full time to Firefox, and the slow migration from Internet Explorer begins. Internet Explorer wins round two, but Firefox has pried open the door and is making real progress in market share and has completely blown the doors off Internet Explorer in terms of performance, UI, and security.
Round three opens with Microsoft finally getting off its ass just enough to release Internet Explorer 7, which does not completely suck, but is still no match for Firefox from a performance standpoint. But I did not fully recognize round three as having started until today. Sure, Chrome and Safari had been released, and I love Chrome. But, I saw a browser today that I have to have. It came from out of the blue, like Chrome. But this one is Mac only. And worse, 10.5 only. I'm to cheap to upgrade from 10.4, so I can't get it.
But I want.
I really want.
It's called Cruz.
It has this simple little plug in that makes you think, 'Why didn't I think of that'. The plug in is called Browser Browser. It essentially lets you take one tab and split it (frame like) into two (or three) panes, so you can simultaneously see two (or three) web sites side by side. And you can control where the frame is (left, right, top, bottom) and how it behaves. Brilliant, and completely thought out. 
Of course, there are plugins for Firefox that let you do something similar, but there are so badly thought out and implemented as to be useless.
Cruz is, let us remember, a brand new browser (based on webkit) and a brand new plugin for that browser. Naturally, I saw this on John Gruber's site.
The heat is on. Round three is on.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Best Apple Deal Ever?

Amazingly, still has the last generation Apple MacBook Pro availble at a crazy low price of $1,643.99 after rebate. Just a couple of weaks ago, this was a $2500 laptop. Considering my view on the new models, this is flat out an awesome deal. Though, to be fair, the new MacBook Pro is quite a nice machine, not artificially crippled like the new MacBooks.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

dead wrong

I respect the heck out of John Gruber. He is smart, clever, insightful, and writes well. So it's something special when he gets it wrong. It's rare, but he did it today. In speaking about the new MaBooks:

What’s important to Apple about this process isn’t that it makes laptops cheaper. It’s that it makes them better at the same prices.
The problem is that the new MacBooks are slower then their predisesors. Their clock speeds have stepped backwards, not forwards and they are stripped of Firewire. Those two reasons are why Apple laptops got nixed off my list of potential next computers.
MacBooks are standing still in processor speed and price, but in this industry, if you are not increasing performance, you are raising prices. Oh sure, the GPUs are better, but what is that good for, games? Really Apple? Are you serious?
When I bought my MacBook, it not only had better features then a similar Dell, it was actually cheaper. Those days are long gone.
And to make matters worse, Apple still has one old school MacBook left, basically a left over the the last generation that comes in at $1,000. So Apple can say that they have dropped their price, but the reality is that the 'white' model is now the ghetto model, it says you did not have the cash for a 'real' MacBook. And this one is underpowered too!
The MacBooks now get completely spanked by competing PCs. Case in point, for $1275 I can buy an HP dv3500t with a 2.53 Ghz quad 2, 4 gigs of ram, with a 512mb geforce graphics card, running Vista 64 bit. This is all important because it will simply blow the doors off the MacBooks if you want to do some work with Adobe CS4 which, for the PC, will be 64 bit and able to use the GPU if it is a geforce with at least 512mb.
Hmmm, $1,300 for a pretty case, or $1,300 for a screaming machine that will rip the face off of CS4?
And about Industrial Design, when it is good, it makes stuff easier to use, increases performance, and reduces price. Apple forgot that this time round.
The new MacBooks are pretty though... Too bad it's only skin deep.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Elitism - Why it is Essential to America's Success

Every political season, "elitist" is a dirty word slung mostly at Democrats. This is the epitome of stupidity. This is the epitome of pandering to the lowest of social standards. This is the epitome of wanting America to fail.

What is an elite? Simply, an elite is someone who excels in his or her field. An elitist is someone who surrounds, or wants to surround, themselves with the best people in their respective fields. So any politician selling themselves as not being an elitist is a flat our moron.

Getting Religion... at the wrong time

I just can't stop thinking about how dumb Republican Congresspeople are. Really, first they vote against the bail-out, then for it. Granted, the bail-out is really hard to swallow, but in the end, it was clearly necessary (to anyone who has any clue about the economy).

After years of spending like drunken sailors, they finally get religion and say no to a really big spending bill. Except, it was exactly the wrong time to go against spending because it was a critical moment for the economy.
So, since Congressional Republicans dropped the ball and could not do the responsible thing, the Senate had to take up the bill and get it passed. Which they did.
Then the bill (now bloated with earmarks) went back to the House where enough Republicans decided to be flip-floppers for the bill to get passed.
This demonstrates that there is a large chunk of Republican Congresspeople who are just really dumb and don't know what they are doing or what is good for America. Bravo.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bankers More Hated then Lawyers?

One aspect of the current financial debacle that might make some happy is the very real likelihood that bankers will become even more hated then lawyers. Of course, that's only good for lawyers and is bad for bankers, but then, that is the least that bankers deserve.

Bankers should count themselves as lucky if people only hate them. By bankers, I mean mortgage lenders. Or anyone involved in 'repackaging' bad mortgages into 'securities'.
Maybe I'm being too harsh on these poor guys.
These are just bad guys. Everywhere you look, you can see bad behaviour. Even big 'normal' banks like Chase were involved in irresponsible (and I think, criminally negligent) loans. If Chase is doing it, there is not doubt that everyone else was too. It was simply too big a pie for these greedy bastards to resist.
Am I sad to see poor old Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch get crushed by their own incompetence? No, their egos and pay checks were too grotesquely large for me to have any empathy for them.
And now Paulson and Bernanke want 700 billion (who are we kidding, the real number will be way north of one trillion) to fix this mess, no strings attached. They tell us we need this because the system is just, 'too big to fail'.
They have not said it yet, but they really are selling this as the only way to avoid another Great Depression. The problem (well, one of the problems) is that this is what Bernanke has dreamed about, to be the guy who gets it right this time and saves us all from another depression. Don't mess with a boy and his dream.
I am not confident that their plan will work because the greedy bastards that got us into this mess will be the ones 'we the people' will have to deal with to get through it and based on their performance so far, I think it likely that they will just grab for the money. They will sell 'we the people' bad mortgages for much more then they are worth. They will add fees and other hidden costs to get every last dime for themselves. And when it is all said and done, they will buy new politicians to deregulate some other financial sector and start all over again.
But wait, say it does work, we stabilize the financial sector and it does not crumble. What do you think will happen next?
Taxes skyrocket.
It's very simple, this mess we are now in was completely foreseeable. I started to realise the implications when my wife and I bought a home in Texas in 2001. I saw that it was way too easy to get a mortgage and I looked around and saw a lot of people with sketchy finances getting really sketchy mortgages. I'm not an economist and even I was able to see it.
So why do taxes skyrocket?
Confidence in America will crumble. President Bush has been working real hard in chipping away at our standing in this world and this crisis will be the last straw. At this point, who in their right mind would invest in this country? We throw a trillion dollars at a useless war, we throw a trillion dollars at bad mortgages, really, who wants to be around that kind of stink?
So then all those other countries that have lent us all that money to buy all that junk will start wanting their money back. And that will cause a run on the bank. But in this case, that bank is the United States of America, or 'we the people'. So to pay that bill, we will need to pay a boat load in taxes.
This storm hits before Christmas season when all the retailers make most of their money for the year. But Americans are stupid (that's what got us into this mess) and may not fully appreciate the magnitude of the catastrophe. In which case, this will be the last Christmas for a long, long while. Might as well live it up one last time, right? But if we do wake up, them Christmas won't be much fun this year. It will look like a dream compared to what 2009 will look like. And that will be a cake walk compared to 2010. And 2011, well, I think I'll stop there, lest I get depressed.
The main problem is that we are just tapped out, there is no more money and we will soon be at the end of our line of credit.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

From the "You Paid for That" dept

Microsoft has ended its recent ads featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld. It is being debated if this was premature and simply in reaction to the negative reaction the ads have received. I thought the ads were OK, even a little funny. And though they did seem to ramble with no point, there was a subtle element to them that was humanizing Bill Gates and, by extension, Microsoft. But since Bill does not run Microsoft anymore, the timing seemed a little odd.

Now Microsoft's ad company will start to air commercials with a John Hodgman look alike as a direct confrontation with Apple's, "I'm a Mac, and I'm a PC" ad campaign. Aside from being in poor taste to rip off your competitors characters, does Microsoft really think it's in their best interest to look like they are ripping off Apple... again?
Historically, one of the main complaints and accusations of Microsoft Windows was that it was just a bad rip off of Apple's OS. Now, with their ad campaign they are doing the exact same thing. Granted it worked for them in the past, but they had a lot more going for them at the time and I'm not sure that rekindling that old rip off argument will serve them well this time.
I wonder how much they paid their ad company for such a stunningly bad idea?
Even if the ads come out OK, the ridicule they will cause will likely negate any positive effect.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

John Maeda, I think he gets it

John Maeda is the new President of RISD (my alma matar). In a recent Wall Street Journal interview, he said, "Artists change how we see the world -- and that can have value in the way people do business." Having lived in Corporate America, I think he is right. But, I wonder if he will be able to sell his idea to business. They are often def to anything but thier own noise and this does not strike me as an idea that they will want to hear.
I am hopeful that he will be an effective leader for the RISD community, he is the first designer to hold this position. That strikes me as downright bizarre, it is long overdue to say the least.
During my time at RISD, I was rather disappointed that the liberal arts requirements kept going up and studio time kept going down. It looked to me like RISD was becoming just another liberal arts college. Some in the field no longer see RISD as a real contender as an elite art and design school. I think this academic shift is to blame. All it does it produce students with the same average liberal arts education as everyone else. I am hoping the Maeda sees and understands this and starts to reverse it.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Online Passwords

In my never ending quest to find ways to secure my vast number of passwords, today I found an online password system that looks like Fort Knox: The system works well and is intuitive, but can we really trust anything online to stay secure. I'm still not convinced that the answer is yes, but makes a strong case for trusting it and it looks a whole lot more secure then any other web site I've seen.

The only other caveat is that you need not only a user name and password (they call it simply 'Pass'), you also need a 'Packing Key'. The Pass and Pass Key need to be rather long for the sake of security. This makes it more secure, but also makes it more difficult to remember. If you forget your Packing Key, you are out of luck, it is unrecoverable. Because of this, it is not a good solution as a primary password protection system, it's just too risky.

My suggestion is to use it as a sort of last resort fall back option. If you travel a lot like I do, you can use it to store a couple of key passwords that will help you get back up and running should your computer (with all your passwords on it) die unexpectedly.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Texas Furniture Makers Show 2008

The ninth annual Texas Furniture Makers Show will be held from October 23 through December 6, 2008. It is held at the Kerr Arts & Cultural Center in Kerrville, Texas.

This state wide show is a growing phenomenon open to all Texas furniture makers. Because of the large pool of interested furniture makers, work will be selected for the show by a jury. Work accepted for the show will be eligible for the following list of prizes:

  • First Place – Best of Show - $3,000
  • Best Traditional Furniture - $1,200
  • Best Contemporary Furniture - $1,200
  • Best Texas Style Furniture - $1,200
  • Best Whimsical/Art Furniture - $1,200
  • Woodcraft’s People’s Choice - $300
  • Show Committee’s Choice - $250
  • Best Apprentice Furniture Maker - $250
  • Best Furniture with Decorative Carving - $250
  • Hill Country Turners’ Choice Award - $100
The awards will be announced at the Awards Ceremony at the KACC on Saturday, November 1st 2008, 6 to 8pm.

Work will be broken into five categories:
  • Contemporary
  • Traditional
  • Texas Style
  • Whimsical/Art Furniture
  • Apprentice
More information and entry form can be found at the KACC web site.

This year's show will be judged by three respected and knowledgeable woodworkers:
  • Asa Christiana - Editor of Fine Woodworking
  • Michael Fortune - Designer, teacher, mentor, and one of Canada's leading creative furniture maker
  • Paul Sellers - Director of the School of Woodworking at the Homestead Heritage Village in Waco
The show also offers continuing education for furniture makers. This year, Michael Fortune will be giving his presentation, "Developing an Idea from Concept to Completion." One of the most intriguing things for any designer is to see how another designer works. No matter how long a designer has worked, there is still so much to learn, an opportunity like this should not be missed. The seminar costs $20 and will be held at the KACC on Saturday November 1st from 2:30 to 5:30pm. Seating is limited, so sign up soon.

The show is sponsored by: Woodcraft, Otto Dukes Machinery Company, and Fine Lumber & Plywood.

The Hill Country is a beautiful part of Texas, The Fall/Winter is a great time to see it, and there will be wonderful furniture! You would be crazy not to go.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

no spit

In referring to Sony's pilot program of selling PCs without a lot of junk software (crapware), Gruber sums it up as only Gruber can, "Good for Sony, but Bott’s enthusiasm is like being amazed after buying a sandwich that wasn’t spit in."

I can now almost recommend buying Sonys again, all that is left is to get their tech support up to speed.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

D40 vs D60

Need help deciding between a Nikon D40 and Nikon D60? This article is my effort to make that decision easier by comparing the two.
Here is the really brief recommendations. If you are a novice shooter on a budget, get the D40. If you are a novice shooter who wants to splurge a bit, get the D60. If you know something about photography already and want to get to know your camera and play with settings and maybe get a few lenses, get the D40. Why should a more advanced shooter get the D40? so you can take the money you saved by getting the D40 and put it towards software, a lens, or a flash. These things will make a bigger difference to your photography than the D60 will.

Disclosure: I do not own either of these cameras, though I have handled both and shot with a D40X. The D40X has been replaced by the D60 and can be thought of as being right in between the D40 and the D60. I own a D70 and have, to date, shot about 53,000 pictures with it. I am a semi-professional photographer in that people have paid me to take pictures and I have sold 'art' photographs as well. But I do not make a living from photography, I am primarily a designer. Though I have enough technical knowledge to shoot reasonably good 'product photography' (and have been paid to do that), I approach photography from an artistic rather then technical background and perspective.

The Body

What is the same between the D40 and the D60? They use the same camera body. This is a small camera body by DLSR standards, but has a very comfortable grip and is easy to hang onto. Because they have the same body, they both lack an auto focus motor. This means that they only auto focus with the newest (and most expensive) lenses. This is not as bad as it sounds, if you buy the camera with a lens (this is called the kit lens), that lens will have a motor built into it so it will be able to auto focus. If you plan on only using the kit lens (or lenses), you will have no problem.

If, however, you will want to buy more lenses, you will have to be careful to buy AF-S lenses as these are (practically) the only lenses that will auto focus on the D40 and D60. AF and AF-D lenses will not auto focus, but they will mount and the light meter will work. AI lenses will also mount, but will not auto focus nor will the light meter work. If you don't mind, or actually plan on manually focusing, then you have no problem. In fact, 90% of my pictures are manually focused, so I could almost as easily use a D40 as I do my D70. Where the D40 would become a problem for me is when I am shooting people with my Nikon 24mm AF lens. That is the lens I most like to shoot with at events and I always have it on auto focus. A good portion of the rest of the shots I take are 'macro' shots where auto focus does not really work anyway. If your primary purpose is macro photography, then both the D40 and D60 would serve you just as well as the D50, D70, or D80. Ken Rockwell has a great chart that shows lens compatibility.

As mentioned, this is a small body but I have seen big guys (6'4") and little gals (5'2") both handle it very comfortably. Nikon definitely has the ergonomics of this body perfected.

DOF Preview

The other feature that both these cameras lack is a DOF preview button. DOF stands for Depth Of Field. This refers to what parts of the image will be in focus. A shallow DOF means that only a little of the image will be in focus, everything else will be blurry. A deep DOF means a lot of the image will be in focus, or at least closer to being in focus. Below, the image on the left has a shallow DOF, the image on the right has deep DOF. Note the tree trunk is in focus in both pictures, but the window is much blurrier on the left.

When you have a DOF preview button, you can get a better sense of what will be in focus and what won't. But it's not a huge feature and most people will not miss it.

The Sensor

The sensor is pretty much the same on the D40 and the D60, they both use CCD (as does my D70). The D60 has a 10MP sensor where as the D40 has a 6MP.

If it is fair for me to extrapolate my experience with testing the D70 and D80 to the difference between 6 and 10 mega pixels of the D40 and D60, then I can say it makes very little difference. Granted, you could push the 10MP to a print size of 24x36" over the 6MP's 20x30" print size, but the added grain of the 10mp will be noticeable. So much so, that you may not want to print that big.

How often will you want to print 24x36"? If you want that at all, then yes, you are better off with the D60. But look at the graphic below to get a good sense of the real difference between the mega pixel sizes.

Where you really get nailed is the file size. A 2gig card will hold 360 6mp RAW files. The same card holds only 190 10mp files. The larger files are slower to work with and clog up a hard drive faster.


Let's take a moment to look at JPG vs RAW. The D40 and the D60 can both capture pictures in both JPG and RAW. When you take a picture with any digital camera the initial information that is generated is what we call the RAW file. Almost all point and shoot digital cameras then take the RAW file and process it into a JPG file. The JPG file takes up less space in your camera and computer and it is a very common format so it is easier to share with people or to print out at a photo center. Also, when the camera converts the image to JPG, it applies a number of 'effects' to make the image look better like increasing the color saturation, sharpening the image, applying 'white balance' so the colors look more natural, etc. The JPG gives you a great finished product that can be used for many purposes.

All DSLRs and a few point and shoots give you the option to save that RAW file. The RAW file has more image data in it and is better suited for 'post processing'. Post processing is when you take the picture onto your computer and use software to make adjustments to it. It is like developing a negative. The down side is that the files take up much more space and they will not look as good as a JPG until you 'develop' them on the computer. It is also not at all practical to try and share these images with anyone else unless you convert them to JPG.

So when should you use RAW? If you know you want to do a lot of post processing and get every last ounce of quality in an image, use RAW. I use RAW when I shoot my 'art' photography. When I shoot events, people, or my family, I always switch to JPG because it is much easier to handle and the image degradation is so minor in these shots that it won't show up when viewing the pictures on a computer or even with moderate sized prints of 12x18". In fact, I could still blow a JPG image up to 20x30" and only professionals would be able to really see the difference between RAW and JPG.

So don't worry about it, shoot JPG unless you have a specific reason to shoot RAW.

The D60 has Nikon's new Expeed image processor. This is similar to what is used in the much more expensive D300, D700, and D3. It will probably create slightly nicer JPG images out of the box. But if you are willing to dive into the camera's menus, you will be able to create great results with either the D40 or the D60. If you want to pull the camera out of the box and just start shooting, get the D60.

Dust Reduction System

Another advantage the D60 has over the D40 is a dust reduction system that helps keep the sensor clean and your images spot free. If you change lenses a lot, this might be a useful feature as it is when you change a lens that you are most likely to get dust into the camera that might eventually find its way onto your sensor. If you don't change lenses much, it is unlikely that much, if any, dust will fall on the sensor. But if you want to keep your sensor super clean, you will want to swab the sensor clean occasionally. Because I swap lenses a lot (frequently outside) I clean my sensor with VisibleDust swabs and solution every few months. Most people won't need to do it that often or at all.

For people like me who have to clean the sensor anyway, this feature is not very useful. But, it is still a good feature and another thing that sets the D60 apart from and above the D40.

Flash Sync Speed

Here is one that goes into the D40's column, it has a much faster flash sync speed then the D60, 1/500th of second as opposed to the D60 1/200th of a second. This I just don't get, why does the 'better' camera have a much slower (and therefore, worse) sync speed? The sync speed is how fast your camera can shoot when using the flash. So the D40 can have an exposure time of 1/500ths of a second when shooting with the flash, but the D60 shoots more then twice as slow. A fast sync speed is helpful if you are trying to catch fast motion and freeze it without any blurring. Not something most people do a lot of. So, unless you already knew what flash sync speed was, you probably won't mind that the D60 is slower.

Active D-Lighting

Active D-Lighting is another new feature of the D60 not found in the D40. When active, it essentially lightens the dark areas of the image so that detail is not lost in areas of shadow. It is a mild effect and one that takes extra time for the camera to apply so it slows the camera down. For this reason, it is best to use the feature sparingly. This same effect can be achieved in post processing with programs like Lightroom, Photoshop, Aperture, or even free programs like Picasa or Raw Therapee.

Also, the use of 'fill flash' (with either the D4o or D60) will do a better job of lightening dark areas of the image, but only for smaller scenes. Fill flash is only as powerful as the flash that is used and no flash will be powerful enough to work on a large scene like a landscape. Fill flash is the technique of using a flash on a bright day to overcome the a bright background. For instance, if you are shooting a portrait of someone against a bright sky, the person's face will be too dark because the camera is exposing for the bright sky. If you use a flash, then the person's face will be lit properly.

Active D-Lighting is yet again another very minor benefit and one that is of no use to an advanced photographer who will be post processing anyway. But, for the novice who does not want to mess about in post processing, this is a nice feature of the D60.


Now we get to the main event. VR stands for Vibration Reduction. This is a technology that Nikon (and Canon) build into their lenses to counteract camera shake to help you create sharper pictures. If the shutter speed is too slow, the image will be blurry because we can not hold our cameras still enough (unless it's on a tripod). VR smooths out our jittery nature to make sharper images. The D60's 'kit' lens has VR, the D40's 'kit' lens does not, though the D40 is compatible with VR lenses.

VR only works when you are taking pictures of still objects, it won't slow down that three year old tearing across the living room. If you are shooting a group of people who are old enough to sit still for a second, or a flower that is not being blown around in the wind, then VR can definitely help.

Other manufactures have similar technology, but they build it into the camera instead of the lenses. Lens based VR systems (known as IS - Image Stabilization - on other brands) tend to outperform camera based systems. The down side the the lens based system is the you have to pay for the technology with every lens that you buy.

For my money, VR is only significant difference between the two cameras. I have not used VR lenses much with my D70, but that's just because of the type of shooting I do. I have it on my little Canon point and shoot A720 IS and it is great, I use it all the time on that. The majority of people will find VR useful and it is the most compelling thing the D60 has going for it over the D40. But, still, I don't see it as a definite 'must have'. And that is the thing with the D60, there is no one feature that puts is over the top. Unlike the D80, if you want to use older AF lenses, the D80 has a killer advantage over the D40 and D60 because the D80 will auto focus those old lenses.

Currently (summer 2008), the D60 is $160 more then the D40 (the prices fluctuate from day to day, but this is the average). That $160 dollars can nearly buy a Nikon SB-600 Speedlight that will make more of a difference than all these little upgrades the D60 offers. Including offsetting the advantage of the VR lens, you don't need VR if you have a good, powerful flash. This is especially true if you are shooting people inside or in other low light situations.

In the end, it is a close call. If you are on a budget, or plan to get a more powerful flash, go with the D40. The D60 does have enough small improvements to warrant consideration, especially if you are not strapped for cash. I think the D60 will also serve the novice user better than the D40. All those little upgrades make is a little easier to take good pictures with the D60.

But in the end, if you want a camera to just take snap shots of your kids, a smaller and cheaper point and shoot camera like the Canon SD850 IS will be much easier to carry around and shoot with. I have a Canon A720IS for times like that.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Google Indexes Flash Content...

Big news in the SEO / Web Design business last week from Google, they now can crawl content in Adobe Flash files.

What does that mean? Flash is a technology that allows for advanced animation and behavior in a web site. It is used for everything from fancy navigation buttons that fly out, to animated cartoons, to embedding video. It is very, very flexible. Flash elements (or files) can be added as parts to a web page (like the way an image is) or it can be used to build the entire web site.

But I have avoided using it in my work for a few reasons:

  1. (Up until now) Google and other search engines could not see and index any content in Flash. So it is (was) a lot harder for people to find the information on your site.
  2. It is a fully proprietary format, if Adobe decides to do something nasty with the technology, or just brakes is out of negligence, that's their right. They can do anything they want with it and god knows what that could entail.
  3. It is not at all accessible to people with visual impairments. Other sites can be automatically reformatted to increase the text size, or even synthesize the text into audio.
  4. Flash is harder to update then HTML and much harder for site owners to move from one designer to another.
The announcement last week at least fixed the search engine indexing problem, or did it? There was a lot of vague language in the announcement and it is not clear at all what will be indexed within a Flash file. At least before last week, we knew that nothing would be indexed, but this announcement suggested that the indexing could be very hit or miss. It is not even clear if the mechanism that Google its self recommends for embedding Flash content into a site will be compatible with this new indexing technology.

And what of sites that had purposely hidden their content in Flash knowing it would not be indexed? And if Google can do this, perhaps spammers will figure out a way to retrieve unprotected email addresses that where previously hidden inside Flash?

This new development is seemingly creating more questions then answers. There is no clear guidance from Google as to how or what will be indexed and that might be worse then knowing that nothing will be indexed.

And, of course, this will leave poor little MSN Search (or are they calling it Live Search now, who knows) out in the cold as it can not do this at all. It is hard to cry for Microsoft though.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Meta Keywords and Data for Web Sites

Many SEO companies still talk a lot about Meta Keywords and their importance in search engine placement, but they are largely irrelevant now. Meta Keywords are terms that are added to a part of a web page that the viewer does not see. This part is called the HEAD, the part the viewer sees is called the BODY, this is where all the text and images are. In the early days of the web, Meta Keywords were a great and easy way for a search engine to know what the page was about. If you had a web page about green widgets, all you had to do was add 'green widgets' as a Meta Keyword on your page and the search engines could categorize you and serve your site up anytime a person searched for green widgets.

Unfortunately, unscrupulous 'web masters' started adding popular terms to their list of Meta Keywords to attract more visitors. Because of this, modern search engines nearly ignore Meta Keywords. So, SEO specialists who are hawking Meta Keywords as some kind of magic bullet are just plain full of it.

But, I still find value in Meta Keywords because if you focus on the few terms that make up any given web page you are trying to make, then you are more likely to create clearer, more relevant text for that page. I've used the idea of Meta Keywords to help clients focus on the main point of the page and edit unnecessary clutter while adding valuable content and focus. This helps not only the person viewing the page, but also helps the search engines to better index the page.
Other common types of Meta Data are Description and Title. The Meta Title is what shows up in the browser title bar, see image. The Description is a concise description of what is on that page and sometimes will be displayed on the search engine results page.

These three forms of Meta Data: Keywords, Title, and Description have some value and should be used, but keep it concise, don't use more then a handful of Keywords, keep the Description down to one sentence, and the title should be short and sweet.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

It's Back!

This tool is a great way to post your email address on a web page, but keep it safe from the prying eyes of spammers: Enkoder.

Spammers have little autonomous programs that search the web for email addresses published on web pages. It's a simple way to pick up more fodder for their evil lists and many web designers still add an email link with the email address inside.

If you have a 'contact me' link that opens an email application like Outlook when clicked, your address is vulnerable, unless it has been wrapped in protective code like Enkoder.

Creating a Web Site? Read This.

A great article for anyone looking to create, or rebuild a small business web site.

Thou shalt not have sucky web sites!

The 10 Commandments of Web Design, so says Business Week.

Via Daring Fireball

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Picasso Thoughts

Distilled and reposted from Paintalicious. I liked the quotes without any explanation better. It's a nifty blog.

  • "He can who thinks he can, and he can’t who thinks he can’t. This is an inexorable, indisputable law."
  • "I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it."
  • "Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working."
  • "Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone."
  • "Action is the foundational key to all success."
  • "Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not."
  • "If only we could pull out our brain and use only our eyes."
  • "Youth has no age."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Netflix does a Notflix

Nasty little email from Netflix came in today stating that multiple Profiles in a Netflix account will be terminated as of September 1st.

To understand this, let's back up and examine why multiple profiles in a single account are useful. Here is a simple example, you have a spouse or a child who does not share your taste in movies, rather then fighting for control over the Que, each can have their very own queue. Each can manage it separately. Say little Bobby wants to rent The Incredibles for the 4th time, that takes a slot out of his queue, not yours. Your movies keep coming no matter how long he keeps the disc.

I use it and I like it a lot, it was just one more sign that Netflix was working to build the best movie rental system for the customer. Now it seems that they are starting to forget about the customer. This is the only thing that can kill them. Blockbuster with all their might, marketing, and cash could not. Nor could WalMart, or even Amazon. They all died at the gates because the one golden rule of Netflix was that the customer was king.

Maybe it won't be all doom and gloom, maybe I'm overreacting, maybe Netflix will survive and thrive.

I'd be a lot more optimistic had they been more honest about their reasons. Instead, they lob up some seriously lame spin, "While it may be disappointing to see Profiles go away, this change will help us continue to improve the Netflix website for all our customers."

UPDATE: Seems like Netflix has returned to its senses and reversed it's decision to do away with profiles:

We Are Keeping Netflix Profiles

Dear James,

You spoke, and we listened. We are keeping Profiles. Thank you for all the calls and emails telling us how important Profiles are.

We are sorry for any inconvenience we may have caused. We hope the next time you hear from us we will delight, and not disappoint, you.

-Your friends at Netflix
I'm guessing whoever wrote the first email got a little talking to about 'spinning' downgrades as upgrades. Perhaps in an effort to further that writer's career they allowed him to seek employment elsewhere.

bad apple

My MacBook died while we were in San Antonio.

It was the logic board again. At least that is the closest I could guess, Apple Care was not overly forthcoming about it.

It was no longer under warranty as I thought $250 for and extended warranty was way too much for a $1300 computer (my last computer, a $1500 Sony, had an extended warranty of only $140).

I was annoyed.

Second major hardware defect in two years.

I called to make an appointment at a (somewhat) local Apple store to have a tech, sorry, I mean 'genius' have a look at it.

On Monday I brought it in and after 15 minutes or so of history and poking around, it was decided that the problem could not be fully diagnosed or repaired at the store.

So now I ask the dreaded, 'how much will this cost' question.

This is where things start getting a little brighter, the tech (sorry, I mean genius) says there is a flat $280 repair fee.

That is still a lot, but that covers any problem they might find. And it's a firm figure, I know what I'm looking at cost wise. And, really, the chances of getting any electronic equipment fixed for less then $250 is pretty slim. I got the impression this flat rate only applied to repairs where there was a manufacturer's defect, but I'm not certain.

Ebay tells me this Mac is worth about $600, so it's a no brainer, I tell the genius to pull the trigger and get'er gone. He boxes it up and ships it to the repair center.

That was Monday, mid day.

On Wednesday, FedEx tries to deliver a package at 9:32 am, but we are not in to sign for it.

On Thursday, I take deliver of above package.

It is the repaired MacBook.

I am $300 poorer and behind in my work having been without my tool for more then a week while I was traveling, then having it repaired. The repair was to a part Apple should have done a better job of engineering. I am annoyed and angry.

But, because Apple really does seem to go the extra mile with their customer care, I am not seething with rage.

When I bought this MacBook, it was a couple of hundred dollars less then a comparable Dell, though this is no longer the case. There are both Dell and Lenovo (IBM) ThinkPads that are similar but cheaper. Except the MacBook is still one of the very few notebooks in it's class that has a DVI port (a requirement for a desktop replacement).

So the question is, would I buy a Mac again... maybe. The size and power are good, but it lacks some basic features like a graphics card and a PCI slot. But that DVI port is a must, and not many notebooks have it. And of course, there is the advantage of being able to run both OSX and Windows on one machine.

P.S. I have a white MacBook, the picture is gray for effect only. Apple still charges a premium for the black ones, so as far as I am concerned, they can keep them.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Third Place

I won third place in the photography category for 'Water and Light' at the Fifth Annual Beaux Arts Finale! It is on display through June 7th, 2008 at the Katonah Library.

Water and Light

And I showed the following two images:

Monday, May 12, 2008

First Place

I won first place in the photography category for 'Water and Light' at the Women's Civic Club of Katonah Fifth Annual Beaux Arts Exhibit! It is on display through May 17th, 2008 at the Katonah Library. After that, I will enter it in the Beaux Arts Finale.

Water and Light

Friday, May 09, 2008

Katonah Art Show

The Women's Civic Club of Katonah is holding the Fifth Annual Beaux Arts Exhibit at the Katonah Library. The show runs from May 12th through the 17th. The reception will be on Saturday May 17th, 2008 from 2pm until 4pm.

I have three works in the show:

Umbrella in the Sun
Water and Light
Book of Good Part One

Monday, April 28, 2008

Cognitive Surplus

What a concept, worth 16 minutes to watch. I think Clay Shirky might be a little optimistic, but still a fabulous piece of thought. I hope I am just being pessimistic, watch this (or read it if you prefer) and decide for yourself.

Via Daring Fireball of course, where all quality links come from.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Cheap Digital Cameras for your Sister

Edit: The digital camera world is an ever changing landscapes, camera models live for six to nine months before being replaced, so the cameras I list below are already out of date. There is still a lot of good information in the following article, just ignore the specific models. Instead, I have setup and mini Amazon store front with new models. Check it out here.
My sister asked recently for some advice on buying a new (cheap) digital camera. This is what I told her, the same advice I would give anyone:

Here are a few cameras to look at:
Canon PowerShot SD870IS - $250 - very small
Canon PowerShot A720IS - $200 or less - the one I have
Canon PowerShot A590IS - $150 - pretty close the the A720, like a little brother

'IS' at the end of the model number means it has 'Image Stabilization'. It steadies the camera to minimize blurry pictures. But it only works with still subjects, not running children.

The A720 has a very nice 6X optical zoom, the other two have 4X and that's pretty good too. There is a new bread of cameras out now called 'Super Zooms', some of which go up to 14X. But those are stupid. The further you zoom, the steadier you have to hold the camera to avoid blurry images. Also, the quality of the lens is compromised to accommodate such a wide zoom range.

'Digital Zoom' is junk. If it is possible in the menus to disable it, you should. Camera manufacturer's should be ashamed of themselves for adding this 'feature'. But they all do it, so I guess they will be able to console one another when they get sent to hell for this sin.

MegaPixel count is the other area of pure marketing hype. Anything over 6 MegaPixels is stupid on a point and shoot because the sensors are too small to really handle anything above that. The new 12 MegaPixel cameras use the same small sensor and create larger but much noisier images

Buying used does not make much sense for digital cameras, they are too delicate and you never know what you will get.

The SD 870 has a lithium-ion battery which is great, it takes more pictures on a charge and the flash cycle time between shots is much faster. But, if you have only one battery you can get stuck with a dead battery when you want to use it. So get two batteries and always have the second one charged and ready.

Flash cycle time is the amount of time between shots when using the flash. It takes time for the battery to normalize and have enough current to fire the flash again. With the flash off, the time between shots it only a second or two.

Both the A720 and A590 use AAs. Standard AAs don't last long and the cycle time between flash shots is incredibly long. Using good rechargeable batteries will work much better, but flash cycle time will still be rather long.

I hear good things about Sanyo's Eneloop rechargeable batteries.

They all take great video, but are limited by the size of the memory card, a 2gig card can store up to 15 minutes of video.

Other things you will need are:
  • Batteries
  • Camera case
  • Memory Card (SD Card) 1 gig would probably be OK
  • SD Card adapter
  • Picasa
The last two are optional, but it lets you avoid having to install the camera's craptacular software. I don't ever install the manufacturer's software, it is always junk that hurts more then it helps. Instead, I take out the memory card from the camera and stick into a card reader attached to my computer. The computer will treat it like an external hard drive so you can go in and manually transfer your images to your computer. Some computers have SD Card slots built right in, so you may not need that and Picasa is free, so no worries there. It's a program for organizing, viewing, and editing digital images. I have much more powerful image editing software, but I always start with Picasa and use it for cataloging my shots.

The other main difference between the the SD870 and both the A720 and the A580 is that the A series (A720 and A580) are designed with a lot of manual controls that are easy to access. The SD870 does not have as many manual controls and they are harder to get to. The SD870 really is for pointing and shooting.

But here is the thing, a good photographer can get a good picture regardless of the camera because he knows how to manipulate the camera to get the best results. All these cameras can create OK images in the Auto mode, but if you know something about photography, you will be able to get better images with the A series cameras.

Monday, March 31, 2008

What is DPI

Dots Per Inch. Whether it be on paper or on a computer screen, the idea is the same: the paper, or screen, is broken into a grid, like graph paper. Each square is one dot/pixel. These dots/pixels then are used to build an image. In most cases, the pixels are too small to see and allow the image to blend together smoothly. All computer screens display images this way, so everything you see on a computer screen is broken down into these small pixel or dots.

A good visual representation of this is the painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" by Georges Seurat. Seurat created this painting by applying the paint in little dots, much like pixels. This painting could be thought of as a low resolution image blown up to the point where you can see each pixel. Much like in the two examples below. The first is normal resolution, the second is the same image, but blown up so we can see the individual pixels.

In either case, the more pixels you have, the finer the detail. But, pixels alone only make up half of the equation. The other half is the physical size of the monitor or paper. For instance, if you have a one inch by one inch square and pack it with 300 pixels by 300 pixels, then you get 90,000 pixels and a very finely detailed image. And that works out to be 300 DPI. That is about as dense as would ever be necessary.

But, if you take those same 90000 pixels and stretch it out over a three inch by three inch square, then the resolution is lowered to 100 DPI. That is still not bad, but if you look closely, most people will be able to see the individual pixels and so the image will not be as sharp.

Most computer screens are somewhere between 72 and 90 DPI. A good quality print requires somewhere in the range of 150 to 300 DPI.

Note that a good quality print out has to be about double the resolution of a computer screen. Why then do the lower resolution images of our computer screens look so good? Because we are used to seeing it that way. Since we started watching TV, our eyes have grown accustomed to seeing images on screen at a low resolution. Standard definition TV is in fact, very low in resolution with a total of 480 vertical lines of resolution.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Why America is going down the tubes

"By some estimates, half of American children have a television in their bedroom; one study of third graders put the number at 70 percent."

Sorry to be so blunt, but if you are a parent of an eight year who has a TV in his room, you sir or madam are an idiot.

No whining, you're an idiot. Shut up.