Scott's Thoughts

DVRs Are Good For TV

TiVo Inc.

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve always thought TV execs were idiots for not embracing DVRs. I bought the TiVo Series 2 when it first came out, and have had a DVR, usually a TiVo of some kind, ever since. And I can tell you unequivocally that I watch more TV with a DVR than I do without.

TV folks are worried about the commercials, of course. Rather, they’re worried that we’ll skip past them when we have a show recorded. But it turns out that most people actually don’t. I’ll admit that surprises me, as an avid commercial-skipper, if there is such a thing.

The DVR was going to kill television,“ said Andy Donchin, director of media investment for the ad agency Carat. "It hasn’t.”

The idea is that most people watch TV as a passive experience, which is true for me to the extent that I’m not actually interacting with it, but not to the point where I’m disengaged enough to not want to skip the beer ads. I always thought that DVRs would cause the industry to create new ways of getting their ads in front of us, not that the existing methods would turn out to still work well.

In any case, this is good news. Great news, even, for shows that are typically watched by a demographic that embraces DVRs. Heroes and Fringe, for example, have their ratings rise sharply when DVR viewership is added in. It’s about time that the outdated methods the industry uses to get its ratings numbers gets overhauled.

Lightroom 3 Beta: Popular Bugs & Forum Threads

Nice collection of highly-reported bugs in Lightroom 3 Beta.

LIVESTRONG Challenge Dates Announced

The Lance Armstrong Foundation today announced the dates for the 2010 LIVESTRONG Challenges. I rode in 2009 and it was fun enough to do again. The San Jose one takes place close to home for me, so I’m glad to see that they’re doing it there again. The San Jose one is on July 11, so be there or be square.

It’s the Quality, Stupid

I agree completely.

But my interest remains, as ever, in the quality of the apps, not the quantity. Let’s say that when the dust starts to settle in this market, Android winds up with far fewer total apps than iPhone OS, but they’re of generally higher quality. That would make Android the Mac to the iPhone’s Windows. I would switch to that platform.

Downieville 2009

View of the River

Josh and Jo, Erik and Elizabeth and Shane joined Val, Ainsley and me for a weekend trip. I towed the Airstream up and stayed at the Sierra Skies RV Park and the rest of the group stayed at Herrington’s Sierra Pines, in nearby Sierra City. Josh and Jo got there early enough on Friday to take the tandem out for a ride, while the rest of us arrived later that day.

Our Camp for the Weekend

We did two rides on Saturday. The first had us doing Packer Saddle down Sunrise, Pauley Creek, Third Divide and First Divide. It was supposed to be a 10:30 AM shuttle, but it left late and we rode slowly, making us a bit late for our 3:00 PM shuttle for the second run. We left for our second run about 4 PM.

Erik Riding Into Autumn

The weather didn’t disappoint. Blue skies, cool temperatures and tacky trails made these prime riding conditions. I brought my new Clik Elite Medium Nature backpack housing my SLR, hoping to catch some of the beautiful fall colors. That made for a heavy pack on my back all day, but I’m happy I did it in retrospect.

Erik in the Creek

The second run was supposed to be Sunrise to Butcher Ranch to Second Divide to First Divide, but we were really running out of light. Jo had an early fall and I had 3 (!) flats, which conspired to slow us way down. We rolled into Downieville in complete darkness after riding by braille down the road, bypassing First Divide completely and having taken the shorter Third Divide again.

Those of us who rode caught up with the non-riding contingent at a local restaurant (I forget the name, but it was the only one open this late in the season), which was pretty good food. After having been in the saddle all day, we all really dug in. I had a rib-eye steak that was really very good.

Fall in Downieville 3

Sunday saw Erik and Shane flake and head out early, while Josh, Jo and I headed up for a run. Josh and I headed down Sunrise and Jo went down the road, ostensibly to meet at the intersection where the trail splits to either Butcher or Pauley. Jo passed the sign and rode on, causing Josh to head out looking for her. We spent about an hour looking for each other, but connected up and continued on. We took a slow pace down, catching Butcher Ranch and finally hitting Second Divide. It was getting late after that, so we caught the road instead of First Divide and then parted ways.

Erik Climbing Granite

These photos and more can be found in my Flickr Photoset for the trip.

Yuppie 911

As someone who ventures into the backcountry, this kind of thing worries me because of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” problem that can arise. What if services don’t respond to real emergencies because they see false alarms from these devices so regularly? I don’t have one of these, but I can see how I could someday. I hope that things like this don’t become so misused that they’re useless to people in real need.

Lightroom 3 Beta: After a weekend of use…

I’ve used Lightroom 3 Beta to edit a few shoots worth of images, and have some things to report. First, as expected from a beta, there are some things that have to be outright bugs:

  • Rotating images in grid view has strange behavior where the thumbnails are concerned. Sometimes the thumbnails just don’t update the to the new orientation, and if you hit rotate again, you’ll be surprised by a 180 degree rotation.
  • Sending images to Photoshop is pretty broken. The regular command-e (on a Mac) does the right thing, but Merge to HDR and Merge to Panorama are grayed out in the main menu bar and although the contextual menu has those options, I couldn’t get them to work right for me.
  • Fiddling with the filters in the filmstrip–especially the star ratings–can lead to Lightroom getting a bit confused.

I’m assuming some things are just rough edges:

  • While working in Develop is faster than in LR 2.5, as is rating and keywording, moving from image to image takes longer while LR3B retrieves or renders the preview. I have 1:1 previews being automatically generated on import, so I’m assuming that it just hasn’t been optimized for retrieving the previews.
  • Uploading via Publish Services seems extremely slow. Much slower than with older export plugins.

Some things are great:

  • I love the new Publish Services idea. I wish Jeffrey Fridl’s Flickr plugin had full functionality, but I couldn’t get even the latest version to work with the same feature set that it has on LR 2.5. He says on his blog that he hasn’t gotten access to any API docs for the feature, so I’m sure those things will get there when he does. The basic Flickr plugin functionality is fine, and better than what Lightroom had before, but it’s not as feature-rich as Friedl’s.
  • It’s nice having Collections navigable in the Develop module, although I think this just points to a weakness of Lightroom’s: depending on modes. This is one area that I think Aperture has always been superior.
  • The new sharpening continues to impress me. Much improved over previous versions.

Adobe’s said that this beta doesn’t have all the features that the final release does. One other feature, in addition to the ones I mentioned earlier, I’d really like is improved geotagging/geolocation support. When biking, I usually have a GPS tracking me, and being able to easily take that track and extrapolate where I took a shot based on the timestamps would be great. I use another Friedl plugin to do that for me now. It’s unfortunately also not working for me in the beta.

I still have yet to try printing or slideshows from the beta, so I’ve got more to play with.

The 27-Inch iMac Is the New Apple TV

Good points from Wired’s Gadget Lab. As a happy user of the 30" Cinema Display, I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with the top-of-the-line display in the wake of the recent consumer announcements. Maybe they’ll introduce a replacement along with new Mac Pros?

Longer-Term GF1 Opinions

I’ve owned the GF1 for just under a month now, and have had the chance to use it enough to form some opinions on where it excels and where it could improve. In no particular order, here they are:

Auto ISO

The Auto ISO feature leaves a lot to be desired. It allows you to set a minimum shutter speed and it will adjust ISO up to keep the shutter speed above that value, up to a user-definable maximum ISO. Sadly, it doesn’t work in manual mode. I’d really like to be able to dial both shutter and aperture to a value and have the camera try and compensate with ISO to get the exposure right. Also, in Aperture-Priority mode, I’d like to be able to prioritize ISO ahead of shutter speed; right now the camera will push the shutter speed to barely hand-holdable levels while there are plenty of decent quality ISOs that could bring my shutter speed up and hold my dialed-in aperture.

P Mode

The P (Program) mode will stick at f/1.7 even when there’s plenty of shutter speed and ISO headroom to go for a smaller aperture. f/1.7 is really wide-open, with very shallow depth-of-field to be the go-to default. Yes, I can use program-shift to get an equivalent exposure with a smaller aperture, but I’d like it to start a bit smaller when appropriate. Likewise, the full auto mode also likes to shoot wide open even with plenty of available light, which is often not what someone like my wife would want in a point-and-shoot mode.

My Menu

I hate that “My Menu” isn’t customizable, but simply has my last used menu items. It sticks “format” as the top item when it’s the last thing you do, making it too easy to reformat your card accidentally.

Menus/Interface

I find the interface to be generally intuitive. A lot better than the mess Olympus made with the E-P1 menu system. The most common controls are pretty easy to get to.

Rear LCD/Optional Viewfinder

I generally want reviews and menus on the rear LCD and the current view and shooting info in the finder–it’s all EVF or all LCD right now. The LCD is beautiful. Upon review, it’s not quite as good as the D700’s but it’s close enough. It sure would be nice if the resolution and color rendition of the EVF were better. The refresh rate of the LCD is excellent. It’s not easy to make critical decisions with it in bright light/outdoors, but that’s to be expected. I wish there were better post-shot review options with the histograms.

Image Quality

Image quality is overall quite a bit better than the G9 it replaces in my stable. The noise gets pretty bad at ISO 1600, but it’s usable for most of my purposes. 3200 is only for use if it’s the only way to get some sort of shot, and there’ll be some real noise reduction post processing work necessary.

The Lens

Ooh, la, la. This is a sweet little lens! It’s fast, fast, fast, and has nice bokeh. On the down side, the manual focus ring gives no real feedback, and isn’t a pleasure to use, although it works better than most manual focusing on small cameras I’ve used. The lens cap sucks–it’s deep and pops off too easily.

Handling

The GF1 has proven to be a decent mountain biking camera, although it’s clearly not built for fast action. It works well when pre-focusing and shooting action; fast moving subjects coming at the camera are not handled super well by the AF. Shutter lag is minimal and power on time is good enough for me.

Conclusions and Comparisons

To date, this is by far the best compact camera I’ve used. Despite its drawbacks and high price, it has the best build, handling and image quality I’ve seen. The G9 was good in the build regard, not as close in image quality (although it was no slouch), but far off from a handling point-of-view. The menu system is much better than the E-P1 based on the brief time I handled one of those, and the EVF is a differentiator. I do wish the GF1 had the E-P1’s in-camera image stabilization–that would be killer for low-light pics like those I’ve been shooting on the bike. Overall, though, this camera wins.

The Canon G11 and S90 are now out and gaining a lot of buzz. It would take a very impressive camera to make me sell the GF1 at this point, and I can’t imagine that either of them will compel me to do so. Still, I’m interested to play with them and see what the state of the art from Canon is. The G9 has been a great camera, and I’m sure Canon isn’t out of this race.

Lightroom 3 Beta Initial Impressions

I’ve processed a few images now, and I have to say that I’m super impressed with the new beta already. The videos talked about how the core has been re-written for quality and responsiveness, and boy have they delivered. It’s more impressive given that they’ve described this as a rough beta.

I was recently turned on to the DNG profiles and earlier today had switched to using the Camera Standard profile for most images, which I’m finding I prefer. That, combined with the new responsiveness of the slider adjustments in Develop mode, is really making for some real fun when processing images.

The new sharpening is a wonder to behold. I’m finding that it’s able to sharpen more to bring out detail without introducing artifacts and noise. I’m not sure how they did it, but it’s working.

As I said, I’ve only played with a few images (and only ones from the D700) but I can’t rave enough about what I’m seeing so far quality-wise.

Also, I imported a few DNG files that I’d already started processing in Lightroom 2 into a new LR catalog to play with. The new import process is much nicer than the old one, although I’m not sure I’d call it intuitive. I need to play with it more and noodle on what’s not quite right there. Still, it’s an improvement for sure.

Lightroom 3 Beta

Adobe’s released a beta of its upcoming Lightroom 3 been downloading it and have watched the videos (about 45 minutes worth). The beta seems pretty focused on getting feedback on specific new things, most of which are enhancements or re-implementations of existing features, rather than new features. I hope that means that there are still new features in the works, because soft-proofing isn’t mentioned anywhere and I think I’m going cry if LR3 doesn’t have it.

Highlights from what I’ve seen:

  • Completely rebuilt rendering engine.
  • Redone sharpening and noise reduction. I hope these are really improved, because they were a bit weak in LR2, IMO.
  • Publish services allow for managing multiple export types, like to Flickr or to a local folder for iTunes. LR will sync changes made in those sources back to the LR catalog, and also make it easy to re-publish to those sources when changes are made in LR.

It’s just finished downloading, so I’m off to play a bit. I’ll post more later. I’m about half-way through editing my pics from last weekend’s mountain biking trip to Downieville, so I’ll import that project into LR3 and give it a whirl.

Dry Erase Paint

My wife can’t understand why I love the idea of this stuff. I think I’d paint nearly every available surface with it, given the chance. OK, that’s not quite true, but it’s close!

Is B&N’s Nook A Kindle Killer?

David Coursey at PC World gives five reasons he thinks the recently-introduced Nook is a Kindle killer.

Numbers 2 and 3 are the only two that are “killers”, in my opinion.

The color display is elegant looking (we’ll see if it works as well as it looks), and could be a huge differentiator. The “more books” is nice, but I think the PDF functionality is the real win here. Trying one out in a physical store is a nice bonus, but probably not a killer feature.

I’ll be honest: I really want a book reader like Kindle or Nook. I have a ton of technical books, and I’d love to have them, plus the non-photography magazines I subscribe to, on something like them that’s easy to carry to and from work.

I like the Nook, but I really like Amazon as a company, and I’d prefer to reward them for not only being a good company, but having stuck their neck out and making this into a real market. That said, I’m not going to buy inferior hardware, especially at the premium price these are going for. I guess I’m still on the fence.

The possibility of Apple’s tablet being good in an e-reading role adds to the reason to stay on that fence, although I’m having a hard time thinking of a reason I’d want a tablet other than as an e-reader. And so far I think e-ink is the right way to go for that purpose, and no rumors have e-ink on the Apple device. The last thing I’d want is a glossy, backlit screen for a device that I’m supposed to read anywhere. Still, Apple does have a way of designing things I love, so I’d never knock them out of the race completely. And if the tablet has other uses I find compelling, like mobile video watching or something, that could allow for some compromise in the reading experience.

I guess I’ll stay on the fence awhile longer.

(Via Mike.)

Flickr! It’s made of people!

Flickr has added tagging of people in photos as well as a new profile page for members. Looks pretty spiffy.

RIP Dr. No

He was 91.

Timesaving Features in Lightroom 2

I’ve been catching up on some Lightroom tips, since I’ve been processing a few images recently, causing me to spend some time in that app. I really liked a recent episode of “The Complete Picture with Julieanne Kost” called “Timesaving Features in Lightroom 2”. There are some great tips in there. The first couple (changing the hiding behavior of side panels and solo mode) are particularly ones that I’ve found useful.

I think that show in general is good, and would also highly recommend the episode on DNG profiles.

Jason Snell on the New iMac Lineup

Jason Snell on the new iMacs. Gruber wonders about why there’s no new 30" Cinema Display; I’m wondering the same about an update/refresh/whatever for the Apple TV.

(via Daring Fireball.)

The New American Photo

I’ve been a long-time reader of American Photo magazine; I’ve read every issue since its inception. It’s in for a long-overdue makeover. I can’t tell from the cover if I love it yet, but change is welcome and I’m looking forward to the first new issue.

Trans-Americas Airstream Road Trip

These folks did months traveling in an Airstream, and their blog is great. Six weeks is the longest we’ve spent in ours, and it was a great trip (I need to write about that sometime). I haven’t had the chance to read every entry, but the ones I have read have been good. Some of those destinations are amazing, and I’ll definitely check the site out for ideas the next time we’re looking to make a trip in the trailer.

“Just Me And My D700”

Christopher Lane is in a similar situation, equipment-wise, that I am. I love, love, love my D700, but it’s just not practical to carry around. As anyone who reads this knows, I supplemented my Nikon with a Panasonic Lumix GF-1.

I completely understand Lane’s worry about the EVF; there’s no doubt that it is indeed “soulless”. However, in my opinion, it’s the best camera of its kind out there, and it’s one that I’m having fun carrying and shooting with. The lens really does make wonderful pics, and soulless or not, the EVF makes it feel like I’m shooting with a “real” camera instead of a P&S toy.

Amazon.com Introduces Same-Day Delivery

I’m a long-time Amazon.com customer, and order almost everything I buy there, largely because of Amazon Prime, where one can pay $79 per year and get free 2-day shipping or next-day shipping for $3.99 per item. Now they’re introducing same-day delivery in certain cities–not mine right now, unfortunately–for $6 per item. I think that’s awesome. I don’t know how many times I’d use it, but it’s certainly nice to know it’ll be available sometime.

IntelliJ IDEA Open Sourced

Great news! IDEA has always been my favorite IDE for Java development, and I’ve always been willing to pay to have it in my toolbox. Now hopefully this open source edition will get it in front of folks for whom the price was too high. I’ll still continue to purchase my licenses, since I want the full monty, but this is a nice development.

The Online Photographer’s Panasonic GF1 Field Report

Good article from TOP. From his conclusion:

Even though I have owned it for only a few weeks, I am serious when I say that as an all-around picture taker, this Panasonic GF1 may be my favorite digital camera ever.

That’s high praise from TOP. Johnston coined the DMD term (Decisive Moment Digital), and says that this is pretty much it, which is what I was hoping when I ordered it. His list of wishes are nice, but my main wish is less noise at high-ISO. If we could improve the quality of the GF1 by one stop, up to the 1600 point, I’d be super happy.

As an aside, I shot a bit with the viewfinder yesterday, and while it has its drawbacks, I like it a lot. It was way too expensive for what it is, but it really enhances the feel of the camera for me, so it’s a keeper. I had Ainsley asleep on my chest last night while I was watching some TV and she had a sweet look on her face, and the GF1 was on the end table near me. I got it, but she was so close to my face that I couldn’t compose and see the LCD. I used the pivot of the EVF to get a 90 degree angle from it and could get it to my eye and shoot sideways and get her face. Hard to describe, but the pivot is already proving useful.

As another somewhat random observation about the GF1, the battery needed recharging last night, which means that it lasted a week of moderate use. That’s pretty good, although nothing compared the G9’s incredible constitution. The G9 often went so long between charges that I’d often lost track of its small battery charger in the meantime. A second battery might be wise for vacations and extended use, but at just over $50, I’ll wait and find a 3rd party battery that’s certified for use on the GF1 (I’ve read reports of some 3rd party batteries that work in other Panasonic cameras not working on the GF1).

Clik Elite Compact Sport and Small Rangefinder Chestpack

I previously mentioned that I wanted to try out both the Clik Elite Compact Sport Backpack and the Small Rangefinder Chestpack. I got both from Amazon today.

The Compact Sport misses the mark for me. I misunderstood the water situation of this pack. Rather than having a reservoir area that spans the length of the pack, it’s only in the upper half or so, really limiting what you can carry. In addition to this, it barely fits my Nikon D700 and 24-70 f/2.8. (I did write Clik Elite ahead of ordering to see if they knew if it would fit prior to ordering. They indicated that they thought it would, but didn’t know for sure. Well, yes, but barely. I really wanted to use it for that camera, and when not carrying the SLR, I wanted to use it in conjunction with the chestpack to carry the smaller camera. The water situation really killed that though.

I’m ordering the next size up—the Medium Nature—but I’m really afraid it’s going to be bigger than I want. Sadly, I think that I really want a slightly larger Compact Sport; I just want this pack with a full-length bladder and I’d be happy. We’ll see.

The chestpack is unfortunately heading back too. First, it’s just a little bigger and more awkward than I thought it would be. The GF1 is the camera I want to carry in it, and it’s just more pack than I need. Not only that, but since I’m not able to use the backpack with it because of the water, it just doesn’t fit in. I’m going to have to look for a smaller pack I can attach to my existing CamelBak instead.

It’s too bad. The packs are well-built and well-thought out, but just don’t fit my intended use. They’re the closest thing yet, but just not quite there.

A couple more notes:

  • These are expensive backpacks. While well-made, there’s no reservoir included, which I think is kind of silly for the price.
  • I hope they get in more retail places. It sucks that I have to order online and return them at my expense to get a look at them.

GF1 Viewfinder is Here

DMW-LVF1 Electronic Viewfinder in Box

It arrived about 30 minutes ago. First Impressions:

  • It is smaller on the camera than I expected, and the size of the view in the finder is also smaller than I expected.
  • The resolution, while kind of low as was widely reported, seems fine to me. The zooming in effect while manually focusing works well in this context–perhaps I even like it better in the finder than on the camera back.
  • The diopter adjustment is great–dialed it in and the finder is tack sharp.
  • Having all of the shooting info that’s normally on the back (histogram, exposure controls, etc.) in the finder is nice.
  • The finder can tilt upwards up to 90 degrees, which is handy.
  • I wish that I could set the finder to have no post-exposure review, but still have it sent to the rear LCD, like a DSLR does.

More soon.

Scott Hill, elsewhere on the web: