Category Archives: Geek-Speak

Geeky spaces lie within — be careful where you step!

NDD: Logitech FabricSkin Keyboard Folio

(NDD is New Doodad Day, btw…)

Another day, another new toy. Today’s is the Logitech FabricSkin Keyboard Folio.

I’ve been thinking more and more about a keyboard for my iPad, and starting to use it more as a mobile communication device, rather than just as an internet consumption device, which has been my primary use for it. Enter the desire for a keyboard. (Note that I didn’t say need!)

Plug it in (to charge it), insert the iPad into the pretty dang secure holder, and it was ready to pair with my iPad. From unviolated box to paired and typing in about 90 seconds. Pretty cool.

I will mention that the keyboard has a funky feel. It’s a covered, slightly membrane-like keyboard, so the keys have a little funkiness to their feel, both from the fabric and from the short throw action. However, it’s definitely better than typing on the glass, and I’m noticing just through typing this up, I’m getting used to the feel a bit.

More to come, I’m sure, as I play with this gadget on a more regular basis!

There’s No Card Up My Sleeve!

CF Cards
Pick a Card!

With a trip to Florida looming (more on that another time), and finally converging my world onto a new MacBook Pro (more on that another time also), I figured I would do a little prep work for the trip.

For most people, that would mean figuring out what to visit, what to pack, and other trip details. For me, that means speed tests of CompactFlash cards.

(Yeah, I wear my geek on my sleeve.)

So here’s the deal. I have a Lexar USB 2.0 card reader that’s served me well for years. And within the last year or so, I invested in a couple of pretty dang speedy Transcend 16GB 600x CompactFlash cards. I wanted more capacity, and found these cards on sale for cheap a while back.

Well, with the new laptop, I now have access to USB 3.0 ports, so I picked up a Lexar USB 3.0 card reader. It basically looks the same as the USB 2.0 version, with the exception of the plug difference, distinguishing it as a USB 3.0 device.

While in Florida, I want to shoot some long time lapse series of star trails over the water, and I knew I’d need more capacity for that if I was going to shoot those with my 7D. That led me to look at high capacity cards. I’d been pleased with the other Transcend cards, so I looked to them again. I figured I would shoot for a 64GB card this time, with a thought toward 10-14 hours of shooting at night.

The Transcend 600x card was about $200, with the 400x card being about $100. I didn’t need speed for shooting, but having speed for pulling the images off the card was pretty key. Reluctantly, I went with the 400x card. Doubling the price for a little faster card was something I just couldn’t justify.

Little did I know that I made a great decision.

That’s the backstory. Here’s what I found, when transferring just about 4GB of video files from the cards to the SSD in my MacBook Pro.

USB 3.0 USB 2.0
SanDisk Ultra II 8GB *** 5′ 39″
SanDisk Extreme III 16GB 1′ 29″ 2′ 02″
Transcend 600x 16GB 0′ 47″ 1′ 45″
Transcend 400x 64GB 0′ 31″ 1′ 42″

Yeah, you read that right. The 400x card is faster than the 600x card, which was quite unexpected. Here’s my theory.

I know the 400x card is UDMA 7. The newer editions of the Transcend 600x cards say they’re UDMA 7, but my slightly older ones don’t. I suspect they are likely UDMA 6, and that’s probably why they’re slower. At USB 3.0 interface speeds, there’s not a ton of difference in the times with 4GB of data aboard.

4GB transferred in about 30 seconds. That’s simply amazing. I can remember copying data to/from 5.25″ floppies — 360KB each — and it taking f-o-r-e-v-e-r to move data around. 4GB is something like 11,000 of those floppies, and I can’t imagine how long it would take to move data off those. Of course, I only had a 40 *megabyte* Seagate harddrive at the time, so it would’ve been moot to try it anyway.

How’s that for some vacation planning? ūüôā

Convergence

For a long, long time, I’ve wanted to get my digital life in one place, while still having the power to do what I want. ¬†Oh, and I wanted to be able to carry it everywhere — inside the house, to work, on vacation.

Yeah, I just want everything. ¬†Doable, yes? ¬†Well, not really… until now.

I’ve tried to put everything in one place, and force all my work into one device. ¬†That was with an old MacBook Pro. ¬†I was landlocked at 6GB of RAM, which wasn’t enough to handle my work, and once I started talking about 100,000 images, that pushed me to external drives, which killed my throughput. ¬†Add to that a spinning harddrive inside the laptop, and it wasn’t quite as portable as I’d like.

For power, I moved through an eight-core MacPro, and eventually landed on an eight-core iMac. ¬†That iMac has been great, although the speed for external drives hasn’t been terrific, with Firewire 800 being as fast as it goes.

When the MacBook Airs hit, I picked up one, and it’s been a great “on the go” machine, but definitely not the power nor speed for external storage that I’d like. ¬†Still, it’s a nice machine.

Enter the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

This little box seems to have it all. ¬†Internal solid state drive — quick boot, and safe to move the machine quickly, like the MacBook Air. ¬†For external drives, there’s USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt connectors, which are both way faster than Firewire 800 or USB 2.0. ¬†Processor-wise, it’s an eight-core beast with plenty of speed. ¬†It can be custom-built with 16GB of RAM, which is as much as I had on the iMac and is more than enough for my needs.

And then there’s the screen.

I took a look at one at the Apple Store, and was just gobsmacked. ¬†It’s the most amazing screen I’ve seen on a laptop. ¬†The 15″ screen has more pixels than my 27″ iMac had. ¬†And stunning, stunning color.

Notice all the past tense references? ¬†Well, that’s ’cause I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, and have one of these beauties on order. ¬†Unfortunately, delivery is gonna take a month. ¬†Apparently, they’re flying off the shelves, and Apple can’t make them fast enough. ¬†If you’re Apple, that’s a great problem to have.

Stay tuned… once the little guy shows up, I’m sure I’ll have some comments about it!!!!

The Lion’s Meow … and Its Teeth!

The shiny new OS for my Macs — “Lion” — was dropped this week. Through a weird quirk of timing, I was able to get it gratis from the Kids at Cupertino. You see, I bought my new MacMini just a few into an as-of-that-time-unannounced window where you could get Lion for free because your machine shoulda shipped with it… or something like that. Anyway, one redemption code in the AppStore later, and Lion was on the MacMini, and was installable on my other two Macs as well. Woohoo!

The first wart I discovered with was Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Client. I had to “Force Quit” the app a few times, and even bounced the machine before it would finally work. I have no idea what it was doing, but it eventually was functional. Yippee!

The next wart was one I knew about — Quicken. Quicken 2007 for the Mac was a PPC-only app, and with the dropping of Rosetta, PPC apps aren’t supported. Makes sense — it’s been almost six years since the Apple switch to Intel. So one quick online purchase later, and Quicken Essentials — the only version available for the Mac — was on the iMac and purring along. Hooray!

Today, I went on a quest to see what other PPC-only pieces of code I had out there. Surprisingly, there were some. There was The Sims, which I really hadn’t played since I installed it. I evicted ’em.

And then I noticed a bad one: EyeOne.

I bought my EyeOne at DLWS in the fall of 2005 for use in profiling my monitors. It’s a cool tool, and code has been carried along for quite a while, with no big changes. That means the functionality didn’t change, which is good, but with the advent of Lion, the old PPC codebase simply won’t fly. From what I’ve been able to see here and there on the ever-truthful internet, it appears that the new owners of the codebase don’t seem to be real interested in updating the code for us loyal EyeOne users. Bummer. That probably means that a new profiling package is in my future. I had to have to do that, but I don’t know any way around it.

With all that in mind, the upgrade to Lion has cost me $50 for Quicken, and who-knows-how-much for a new profiler … maybe a few hundred bucks?

As for functionality, Lion has a few new things, a redesigned Mail application, and some pretty visual changes that are pleasant to watch. Are there gobs of new things I see as I use my machine for scanning, Aperture, or other things? Not really. I do hate the fact the scrolling is now backwards — now, you “push” or “pull” the content in the direction you want, kinda like a physical piece of paper. Definitely backwards, and makes my transition from work (Windows-centric) to home (Mac-centric). I know you can change that behavior, but if that’s the way Apple’s headed, I kinda wanna go that way too, lest I get caught later needing to learn this new behavior, but under some pressure to get something done!

So for me, Lion’s less of a big cat, and more of kitten. Like with any kitten though, it’s inflicted a little pain that I’m just gonna have to figure out how to heal.

CORRECTION/ADDITION : It appears that X-Rite (who now owns the codebase for the EyeOne) are planning to include support for my device in a new piece of code to be released in September. Of course, it won’t be a free upgrade, and I will have to live without my profiler for a few months. Color me hopeful that this gets resolved both quickly and correctly!

Photographing Raindrops (Part 2)

When last we left our intrepid hero, he was inspired by all the rain to figure out how to capture the raindrops as they hit surfaces. He had built an extension cable and housing for his flash… all he needed was rain. Which had apparently abandoned him.

The Setup
The Setup

Yesterday, that changed. Big storms came through Da Lou, and put raindrop photography back to head of the photographic class. As you can see in the photo, I deployed my flash in its nifty new housing atop my target table. My thinking was that the water would pool on the table, and with the shallow depth, the drop splashes could be pretty impressive.

And the rain fell, and fell, and fell. It was a great storm to practice on, with varying amounts of rainfall to experiment with. For most of the shots, I was using my flash on “multi” mode — stroboscopic — at 199hz (199 flashes/second) and 1/128th power. I did this to capture the droplets as they splashed about, and to keep the stress on the flash down.

Lessons learned? Well there were a few:

  • Power for the flash. Replacing batteries pretty frequently really sucked. Not only was I missing shots, but as the batteries drained, the recycle times got longer and longer. Obviously, I need to find an AC power source for the flash.
  • Controlling the droplets. Let’s face it. The rain falls where the rain falls. Predicting that is very tough, so figuring out where to focus is a mess. I had the camera stopped down in order to get a pretty wide depth of field, but that made every single splatter show up, and in some images, it’s hard to figure out what I really wanted the viewer to focus on. I need to find a way of directing the droplets where I want them, at the pace I’d like (in order words, not a vertical river like a downspout gives you) so I can increase my odds of getting decent images.
  • Snoot. The enclosure does a great job of diffusing the flash, lighting up a lot of splatters, and while that’s great for some of the images, for others, it would’ve been nicer to have a focused source of light. A snoot woulda done that, but I’m not entirely sure how I’d manage that with the waterproof housing. Perhaps it could velcro to the outside? Since the snoot would likely be plastic, it probably doesn’t matter much if it gets wet.
  • Spray and pray. As I mentioned above, rain falls on its own schedule and location. This means that I trigger the shutter endlessly, hoping for the best shot to appear in the frame. Ideally, controlling the location of the falling droplets would be great, but barring that, having some way of triggering the camera only when a droplet hits the area of interest would be great. There are ways to do this, but that’s gonna mean more DIY work!

With all that said, enjoy some of the fruits of about 500 images shot, culled down to 100 or so that were “of interest”, and further culled down to just a few that were pretty dang cool right out of the camera (and a little cropping in Aperture). As you can tell by looking at the images, there are some surprises out there. Big splashes, droplets that shimmer in the stroboscopic light like fireworks in the night sky, and all kinds of minutiae that you’d never see without the aid of the camera. Enjoy!



Photographing Raindrops (Part 1)

Saturday morning, we had some big ol’ storms come through Da Lou. They woke me around 5am, and with the house quiet with sleep, I decided to shoot some raindrops from the storm.

I found that the rain was moderating as I was setting up, and by the time I was ready, we were down to drips of rain. Still, it was a good opportunity to play. Now, the sky was really dark due to the clouds still over us, and that drove me to crank the ISO up on the shots. The Canon EOS 7D can make some acceptable images at high ISO, but with pretty dark conditions already, and a need to have a decently deep depth of field… well, my images weren’t quite where I wanted ’em to be.

So, I started thinking about flash for the drops. The forecast was for more rain, so I started puzzling out how I might add my Canon 580 EX II flash into the picture. (Pardon the pun.) The more I thought about improving my shots, the more I thought I’d wanna take advantage of the wireless capabilities of this flash when used with my 7D. This would let me put the light where the drops are falling. All good.

My brain sometimes will get just a little too far down the path, and this morning was no exception. I thought, if just a flash was nice, why not use the strobe feature from my flash? That might make for some interesting shots, freezing the action over and over again in the same frame. Well, it was a great idea while it lasted. You see, you can’t use the strobe feature on the 580EX wirelessly. D’oh!

That meant going wired. The only extension cable I had was a curly job, maybe 12-18″ long, and nowhere near long enough for what I needed. You see, I wanted to put the flash outside, and keep the camera inside and dry. (But won’t the flash get wet? I’ll get to that in a bit.)

I looked around the ‘Net, trying to find anything about extending the reach of my hotshoe cable. I found an article at Vu Le Photography that described how to use a pair of wall-mount Cat5 receptacles to extend a hotshoe cable using a simple Cat5 cable. A quick run to Home Depot, along with getting up the guts to cut my not-inexpensive cable in two, and I was ready to go. The instructions were clear, and inside 30 minutes, I had a extendable cable.

I connected the Cat5 cable between the two ends of my previously intact cable, and… it worked! I was able to use the strobe mode on my flash from afar.

Remember I said I was gonna leave my flash out in the rain? I figured I needed to find a container to enclose the flash, keeping it dry, while still having it near the raindrops. I thought about buckets, and other kinds of rainshields. And then I went in the kitchen… One of Becky’s Lock&Lock containers — a tall 1.5L container, perhaps this one — was the perfect size to hold the 580EX, and hold it upright! In fact, I could even put the all the cable connections inside the container. I cut a small notch in the lip to let the Cat5 cable pass through, and on the bench, it all works.

With storms coming tonight and tomorrow, I should have a chance to put it to the test. We’ll see if all the work will pay off!

Stay tuned…

New Gear : MacMini

Yeah, yeah, it’s been two weeks since my Memorial Day missive. (Thanks, BTW, for all the kudos on the piece — biggest “hit” day ever on the blog.) It’s time to get back on the wagon, so we’ll get a little stream o’ consciousness about some of the new toys in the Deauxmayne.

I’ve had a MacMini for years. In fact, my first MacMini was a 1.42GHz G4 MacMini back in 2005. That was a cool little machine — teency, reasonably fast for what it was, and a great infrastructure machine (at the time, I also had a G5 iMac). And, it was my first foray into the weird little stepchild that is the MacMini.

A year later, I upgraded to a 1.66GHz Core Duo MacMini — one that I was still using as an infrastructure machine until the latest acquisition. Again, a cool little machine, with plenty of upgrade potential. Getting the machine open required the use of a cake icing tool (seriously!), and I got inside it several times to upgrade memory and hard drives. In fact, until a year or so ago, it was the “server” this site sat atop.

Enter the recently announced OS X Lion. Looks like it’ll be a great new OS, but it’s hardware bar-to-entry is a little higher than my lil’ ol’ MacMini could provide. So, after five years, it was time to move on to new hardware.

I picked up the new little 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo MacMini last week, and was really impressed with the size. It’s thinner, albeit a bigger square than its predecessor. And along with that thinness, Apple learned a lesson from the AppleTV, and dropped the power brick — a single cable plugs into the back, and that’s it. What a great improvement!

Another nice touch are Mini DisplayPort and HDMI ports on the back for video. No more bulky DVI connector! There’s also a FW800 port, and four USB ports — all good things for the way I’m using the little box. Apple also put an SD card reader in it… but it’s located on the back on of the machine. That’s a really, really, really weird place for a slot that you’d figure someone might be using a lot if this was your primary machine.

So what do I use it for?

Firstly, it’s a print server, serving up my Canon multifunction printer to all the machines on the network. Printing from everywhere is a great thing!

Secondly, it’s a backup machine. Using Chronosync, I backup my recently-acquired Western Digital My Book 4TB array (from the iMac) to a pair of Western Digital My Studio 2TB drives. One gets the photo and scan archive, and the other gets the rest of my digital life — documents, software, etc.

Thirdly, I have a fileshare sitting on it that Becky uses to drop off files for backup. Basically, an internal cloud application from her view. (I had to throw a cloud reference in there!)

Lastly, I have it set up for video import duties. I can import via my EyeTV device, or from my Canon ZR70MC digital camcorder. It’s got a nice A/D import path in it, and with FW800 in the new MacMini, it makes importing video a breeze.

Are there other things I could do with it? Maybe… probably. For now though, I’ve got a pretty cool infrastructure machine that just percolates right along, without me having to worry about it at all. That’s solid, and it just works.

New Gear : Transcend 600X 16GB CompactFlash Card

Transcend 600x CF
Transcend 600x CF

B&H Photography has graced me with some new CF cards — a pair of Transcend 16GB 600X cards!

I’ve been pining for new cards for a while. My largest card — a Sandisk 16GB Extreme III — was plenty fast enough in my 40D, but was lacking on the 7D. When I shot the Three State Three Mountain Challenge from Mom’s driveway a few weeks ago, I kept having to pause to let the buffer on the camera clear. Admittedly, I was shooting RAW (probably shoulda been shooting JPEG), and was shooting big bursts as the cyclists went by… but still… waiting for the buffer to clear was painful. Since it was just an experimental shoot for me, there was nothing lost by having to wait occasionally. Doesn’t mean I enjoyed waiting!

I’ve been looking at faster CFs since I bought my 7D over a year ago. I don’t often need speed, so I haven’t really pursued it real hard. I’d seen a tweet from someone extolling the virtues of the relatively new Transcend cards, and that piqued my interest again. When I was at the Canon EOS Immersion Seminar last weekend, Transcend’s name came up again, alongside Lexar and Sandisk. My fate was cast. If the folks representing Canon, who told us to use good cards and beware the cheap stuff, still had Transcend up on the big screen with the big kids of flash cards, then that was good enough for me.

The cool thing about these cards is the price. B&H has ’em for about $75/ea for 16GB cards. At 32GB, they’re more than twice the price of the 16GB’s. The good news is that at $75 for 16GB, they are way under half the price of their Sandisk counterparts.

And BTW, for me, going to 32GB cards sounds attractive, but if I lose a card — which in nine years of shooting has never happened (except for the old microdrive cards, which were disastrous for me) — I simply lose too much at 32GB. And frankly, it’s rare that I can’t take the time to change cards. My subjects just ain’t that dynamic typically!

So, how’s the performance?

In camera, they seem pretty dang fast. Compared to my Sandisk 16GB card, I overran the buffer after about 23 shots and started pausing between images. However, the buffer seemed to clear much more quickly with the Transcend than the Sandisk. Shooting JPEG, the difference was much more pronounced.

Shooting large JPEG, the Sandisk card gave me about 28 seconds of shooting (approx 200 images) before there was a pause. The Transcend card? Well, let’s just say that I stopped after 40 seconds (approx 280 images). I mean, when am I gonna shoot 40 seconds solid of something?!

I’m pleased so far, and can’t wait to get this little guys out in the field. If they pan out like they appear they could, I’m pretty sure there’ll be more of ’em in my bag, replacing some cards that are long-in-the-tooth.

New Gear : Whirley-Pop

I’ve been on a quest for a popcorn popper. I mean, the little microwave bags are fine, but I’m a fan of process, and I wanted to pop real corn.

Hands down, the most popular popper out there seems to be the Whirley Pop from the folks at Wabash Valley Farms. Bed, Bath and Beyond carries ’em, so I braved Manchester Road, and picked up a popper today.

After seasoning the pan, I put it to the test tonight. It was easy to set up, and start popping. Frankly, it was as fast as microwave popcorn — about three minutes — but with a lot more corn, somewhere in the neighborhood of six quarts. And it’s fun and easy. Crank the handle, listen for the corn popping to slow down, and dump it out. Pretty basic.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that it’s pretty easy for me to fall down the rabbit hole when it comes to devices. This looks like it could be the same. Different kernels, oils and recipes all seem like they’re likely to start crossing my sights. The Whirley Pop folks make that even more likely with a recipe exchange site, kinda like the Big Green Egg folks, and I’m pretty dang certain I’ll end up trying out some of those recipes.

Let the popping begin!

New Gear : MacBook Air

I’ve been thinking recently about a move to lighter weight laptop. My 15″ MacBook Pro has been a solid machine, but it was getting long in the tooth (a late 2008 model), and seemed to be gaining weight as it got older. Don’t we all. ūüôā

The question was MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. The first-gen MacBook Air was released a while back. The rub on that machine was that it was pretty dang slow, and I never really was interested in it. You’d think that’d point me toward the MacBook Pro.

However, as I started looking to get a bit more current on my road machine, I started looking at the recently upgraded MacBook Air. The new models had better graphics cards installed, and were all SSD-based. This flash-based drive really made a convenient, “no moving parts” laptop, and consequently, made it really, really light. And, it’s simply beautiful, with typically well-thought out Apple esthetics.

Apple introduced two screen sizes, 11.6″ and 13.3″. For folks that loved the ancient 12″ iBook, that 11.6″ screen was attractive. The memory sizes were fixed at either 2GB or 4GB, and weren’t user upgradable, with the RAM being soldered to the motherboard.

In the past, Apple had delivered recovery DVDs with their laptops and desktops. With the new MacBook Air machines, they supplied the recovery code on a teency USB thumbdrive. What a stroke of genius! And, of course, without there being an optical drive in the MacBook Air, it just makes a whole more sense when trying to recover the machine while on the road. Hopefully, this is a hint of what’s to come in the future.

With all that new coolness, neither of these machines weighed more that three pounds. Three pounds?! Yep, and it still ran regular ol’ Snow Leopard, not iOS. That means that anything you use on your “big machine” at home, you can — in theory — run on the MacBook Air.

That’s assuming there was enough umph to run “real” code, and that’s what I’ve spent most of the last two weeks trying to understand.

Everything I’ve read has led me to believe that the slower processors in the 11.6″ model will run Aperture, Lightroom or Photoshop, assuming you weren’t trying to conquer the world with big editing projects, nor cataloging tens of thousands of photos. It appears that the SSD drive is helping enhance the throughput, somewhat offsetting the slower processor architecture.

As you’ve probably figured out by both the headline, and this lead-up, I bought a MacBook Air on Friday. I opted for the 2.3 pound, 11.6″ model, upgraded the processor to a 1.6GHz C2D, upgraded the SSD drive to 128GB, and got the upgraded 4GB memory option.

This was a hard call for me, as while I was doing my research, I discovered that the new generation of MacBook Pro laptops had enough power that could even replace my iMac if I wanted. After a lot of soul-searching, I opted for portability, leaving the heavy lifting to be done at the house. Very tough call for me.

So how’s the machine?

Well, so far, pretty dang good. I haven’t really tried doing anything crazy with the thing — no big photo imports, or big edits — but it’s done everything I could possibly want to do. Surfing, social networking, and other Mac-centric things I do seem to run well, and I’ve got no reason to believe that it won’t do what I need in the field, and do it with a lightweight footprint.

As part of my purchase, I also bought into Apple’s One-to-One program. I’d picked up Aperture during the App Store launch a month or so ago, but hadn’t really spent much time working with it, being pretty Lightroom-centric in my work. However, I’d really wanted to get started moving to Aperture, and knew this might force me to start moving down that path. I don’t know that I’ve got any great reasons for moving to Aperture, outside of Faces and Places, neither of which Lightroom does natively. If you haven’t looked at those features, take a gander, and you’ll see why I kinda like ’em.

The One-to-One program allows you to attend seminars, set up one-on-one sessions, along with project work with the trained instructors at the local Apple store for a year. And it’s all you can eat during that year, including online training. The cost of all that is $99, which is about the cost of two Aperture books, and I figured I could get more out of face-to-face training rather than reading a couple of books. My first “Intro to Aperture” seminar is Wednesday, and I expect that’ll just be the beginning.

Big changes in the ol’ Deauxmayne, I suppose, but it’s time to shake things up a bit, and get a little more fleet of foot. Watch this space — I’m sure there’ll be other changes to come!