Scott's Thoughts

Panasonic Releases Firmware Update for GF1

Grab it here.

Apple 27-Inch iMac

Wonderful review of the i7-powered 27" iMac. If I wasn’t sold on portables, I’d have one of these in a jiffy. Given the text of the review, I’m surprised it only rated 8 out of 10. Read like a 9 to me.

Top Ten YouTube Mountain Bike Videos

Gregg on MTBR recently outlined his 10 favorite mountain bike YouTube vids. Some pretty good ones in there.

Racing Wheel Stand

I so want this thing, no matter how dorky it may be. Better than using a chair as to hold my wheel up while getting my Forza 3 on.

Becky’s Carlmont Drop Challenge

Sounds like fun.

Twitter: Time’s ‘Person’ of the Year?

Seriously? They should just stop doing these if they don’t have the balls to call out a person.

Nice Rails Tips

Good guide.

I’m Looking Forward to ‘The Prisoner’

I watched the original series back when I was a kid, and I honestly don’t remember much of it. But the upcoming remake great, and I’ve already got my TiVo set. It starts on the 15th.

A Week With the Droid, Part One

I hate AT&T.

That might be an odd way to start a post about a cell phone that’s not on the AT&T network, but it’s at the heart of why I now have a Motorola Droid, on the Verizon network, in my possession. As people who know me already know, I’ve had every version of iPhone, currently the 32GB 3GS model, and am a huge fan of it. I’m also a Mac user and Apple TV owner, with a sizable investment in the iTunes way of managing media. I wouldn’t consider switching to another phone, except that I can’t use my iPhone as a phone most of my day. That’s right, my new office is an AT&T black hole. No signal at all.

Let’s face it: the killer app of any phone is being able to make and receive calls. Hence, the Droid.

The Droid is the first phone I’ve used that could even make me consider moving away from my iPhone. I picked the Droid up on release day, last Friday, and have used it all weekend. This post will be about my initial impressions from that period, and I’m sure there will be more coming over the next week as I try and decide if I can live with it well enough to have it replace my iPhone permanently.

The Hardware

Motorola makes the hardware itself. The initial impression it gives is that it’s solid. It’s a bit heavy, and I perceive it to be bigger and heavier than the iPhone until I hold them side-by-side and realize that while it is bigger and heavier, it’s insignificantly so.

While it’s well-built, it lacks the certain jewel-like quality I feel the iPhone has. The iPhone has few, well-placed buttons and almost imperceptible seams. The Droid, with its removable battery, more numerous buttons, sharper edges and corners, and dual branding on the front (both Motorola and Verizon get billing on the front of the device, with Verizon and Google on the back), misses the high bar set by the iPhone. That said, it’s tasteful as other cell phones go, and is at worst inoffensive.

The Screen

I’ll leave the specs to sites that handle those things better than I could, but note some highlights. The screen is of much higher resolution and pixel density than the iPhone, and it’s gorgeous to look at. Going back to the iPhone after a day of the Droid makes one realize how jaggy that screen is. If you want to stay in love with your iPhone’s screen, don’t use a Droid for long.

It’s a touch screen, and as far as its performance goes, it’s fine. The iPhone seems more responsive to touches and gestures, but I’m not sure what part of the Droid is to blame. In any case, the Droid is not terribly far behind.

Micro-USB & Docks

Instead of a proprietary connector like Apple’s, the Droid is equipped with a micro-USB connector on its left side. It’s used for both charging and connecting to a computer. There are two docks available; I was only able to get ahold of the one for the car, which I perceive to be the more important. The other, for the home, turns the Droid into a capable alarm clock. The Droid, when put into a dock, goes into a dock-specific mode, with an interface that makes sense for that context. The car dock triggers a car mode which has large buttons and easy access to voice control and navigation options. More on that last bit later.

Battery

The battery that comes with the Droid, which is user-replaceable, lasts about a day with moderate call usage, fairly heavy other usage and all radios (Bluetooth, 3G, GPS) active. Good enough, but I definitely need a car charger to top it up for heavy-use days.

Camera

The camera is a 5MP model with a dedicated button to take pics with. It’s autofocus, but without the iPhone’s neat ability to pick a subject to focus and expose for. It’s serviceable enough, but even though it’s of higher resolution than the 3GS’s camera, I don’t perceive it to be better in the few times I’ve used it. In fact, perhaps it’s not as good—more use required to tell.

Slide-Out Physical Keyboard

The cool kids call the Droid a “slider”—it has a physical keyboard that slides out like a drawer from the screen. Bottom line: it works, but I don’t see the need. The software keyboard works better for me, so I never use the slider. In fact, I’d prefer a model that saved the weight and complexity the keyboard must add to the device.

The Keys

The Droid has two physical buttons and 4 permanent “soft” buttons. The physical ones include one on the top right corner, in the same place as the iPhone’s, which wakes the Droid up or puts it to sleep. A long press provides a menu of power-related options. The other is a dedicated camera button on the bottom right, which fits under the finger when holding the phone horizontally to take a picture.

The power button is fine, but the Droid’s beveled top and the nearby headphone jack make it ever-so-slightly hard to find by feel, unlike the iPhone, where it falls right under the finger and is distinct from the otherwise smooth case. I would prefer that the camera button not exist.

The soft keys, as I call them, are at the very bottom of the touch screen, and are imprinted with icons. They only work when the phone is active, and can’t wake it from sleep. There is no front-facing button like the iPhone’s with which to wake the Droid, forcing one to use the top button. A minor quibble, but a noticeable difference for me. It’s a “small thing” that one uses constantly; the iPhone gets this just right and the Droid slightly misses.

The buttons include a back button, like a web browser’s; an option button which is context-sensitive, typically summoning an on-screen menu; a home button which returns one to the main screen from within any app; and a search button, which can always be used to search the phone or the web.

Notification Light

There’s a small LED on the front upper-right corner that can be set to flash when you’ve missed a call, have voicemail, email, or many other items. It pretty much flashes when some event you want to know about has happened while the phone is inactive. This is a nice feature that I wish the iPhone had; you can glance at the device to see if you missed anything.

Software

The built-in Google apps are almost all wonderful, as are the Google-created optional ones.

The Killer Apps

Google Voice

I’ll go into detail about Google Voice in another post, but the Android app of the same name is a Google-written app that provides an on-device interface to the voice and messaging features of that online service. As an appetite-whetter for my future post on the topic, this could be a killer app for the Android phones, since Apple has not allowed a similar app on the iPhone.

Google Maps with Navigation

The Droid uses Google Maps with turn-by-turn navigation to provide the functionality of a stand-alone personal navigation device such as one by TomTom or Garmin. This free, preinstalled app, gets maps and traffic data from the Droid’s internet connection and uses the speaker to provide audible directions to a destination. A session can be initiated by the user asking for directions vocally, which works surprisingly well. Approaching arrival, the Droid uses Google Street View to show a picture of the destination. The app is wonderful, and I predict will deal an enormous blow to the personal navigation device market. This alone is a reason to buy the Droid.

When connected to the car dock mentioned earlier, a user interface appropriate to being used at arm’s length is presented, with navigation and voice command prominent on-screen. The navigation app also prevents the Droid from sleeping when navigating. Listening to music or podcasts happens in tandem with navigation when desired, and the navigation commands appropriately override the music, albeit temporarily.

Other Supplied Applications

Mail

There are two mail apps. One that handles Gmail, and one that handles everything else. The Gmail app feels very much like Gmail in the browser, collecting threads into conversations and labeling them based on your account’s rules. The other one works with Exchange, POP or IMAP mail, and provides a more traditional mail experience. It features a combined view of all mailboxes—something I’ve long wanted on the iPhone. Overall, I’d say that mail is handled better on Droid than on iPhone.

Calendar

Like mail, there are two calendar apps. One is called “Corporate Calendar”, and handles Exchange calendars. The other handles all others, including Google’s own calendar service. Unlike mail, I find this distinction annoying, and also think that the interface of both apps (very similar) is well-behind the calendar on the iPhone. The iPhone’s not only looks better, but allows one to see personal and work schedules together if one chooses.

Browser

Generally, the WebKit-based browser on the Droid is good, but again falls behind the iPhone’s implementation. The Droid’s browser lacks multitouch zooming, although to be fair, I typically tap-to-zoom more frequently on the iPhone browser. Still, it’s an option that is frequently handy and is missing on the Droid. The zooming animation is far jerkier and less satisfying than on the iPhone. It’s another small thing that makes me aware I’m having a slightly less well-designed experience.

The rendering of pages on the Droid is also well-behind the iPhone’s. Many pages render somewhat oddly, but still legibly.

Contacts

The contacts app is a shining star on the Droid, and is a great example of what can happen when an app is extensible and open. The contacts app syncs with Google’s contacts service and also pulls in appropriate data from other installed apps (with your permission). For instance, the Facebook app (installed by default on the Droid) allows one to add information about Facebook contacts to the appropriate contact card on the device, if desired. You can add all Facebook contacts, but the option I was impressed with was one that allowed me to augment only the contacts I already had on my device with additional information from their Facebook profiles. Consequently, many contacts on my phone now have pictures, birthday and other information I didn’t previously have for them. Very, very nice.

When you select a contact, you can see a list of available actions for that contact, based on the capabilities you have installed on the Droid. Online status, Facebook status, etc. are also listed. It’s very well-designed and I hope that Apple decides to incorporate similar hooks on the iPhone. This is a big win for the Droid, and it’s hard to explain how pervasive this kind of thing is on this device.

Gtalk

Support for Google’s instant messaging platform is built-in, and works very well. Taking advantage of the architecture that allows tasks to run in the background of the application in use, Gtalk on the Droid allows one to remain online even when the phone isn’t active. Incoming messages can notify the user in a myriad of customizable ways. Chatting is as-expected, and once activated the contact lists across the device shows the Gtalk status for that person.

Music

The music player is pedestrian but functional. It’s another spot where the Droid, in stock form, falls behind the iPhone. You can put music on the Droid by connecting it to a computer and dragging music to the device as though it were any other USB mass storage device, such as a hard drive. The music app plays music and has basic functionality, but the overall experience is not nearly as elegant as the iPod app on the iPhone. There is also no out-of-the-box software to supplant iTunes as a hub to get content onto the Droid. I’ve been playing with Doubletwist, which is a Mac app that acts somewhat like iTunes and provides some synchronization with content from a Mac. I’ll post more on that later.

The Market and Add-On Apps

The Android Market is an analog to the iTunes App Store, which provides a marketplace to acquire free and paid applications to enhance the Droid. I’ll highlight a few that I’ve downloaded and used.

Google Listen

Another first-party app, this one is focused on podcasts. It does a far better job than Apple’s iPod app on the iPhone does of managing and acquiring podcasts. It supports subscriptions to podcast feeds, sorts incoming podcasts into a “listen queue” for consumption, and allows pre-downloading of content on both WiFi and 3G connections, with 3G as a configurable option. Listen runs a task in the background to get new content without user intervention. It can also start an arbitrary podcast with or without a subscription to the feed and download and buffer it on-the-fly if necessary to support on-demand listening. As a heavy podcast consumer, I find this app to be wonderful.

Twitroid

This app for interacting with Twitter is functional, but not elegant. Coming from both Tweetie 2 and Twitterific on the iPhone, this is a somewhat bitter pill. There are many Twitter clients available for the Droid, and perhaps another would be better, but Twitroid seems to be the community favorite.

Google Sky

An astronomy app that uses the accelerometer and compass in the Droid to display the stars, planets and associated data on screen. It’s a lot of fun, and very well-executed.

Facebook

The pre-installed Facebook application is similar to the iPhone version. It works well, and has the added big benefit mentioned earlier of integrating with the Droid’s system-wide contact service, providing contact info and Facebook status to the device.

The Network

As mentioned, my main original motivator for acquiring the Droid was the lack of AT&T signal in my office. Somewhat ironically, which Verizon has strong reception in my office, it’s weak at home. That leads to decreased call quality while in my house, but some signal is better than no signal, so Verizon wins there. 3G speeds have been excellent—certainly faster than the AT&T-provided service on the iPhone 3GS.

Android

I’ve been writing about the Droid as though it were a device unto itself, when in reality much of what makes the Droid special comes from its operating system: Google’s Android OS. I’ll write more about Android separately, but suffice it to say that the applications and marketplace are there because of the Droid’s use of the Android OS.

What’s Missing (For Me)

There are a couple of iPhone-specific apps that are ingrained in my daily life now that I am sorely missing on the Droid.

Omnifocus

Omnifocus is a GTD app for the iPhone that acts in tandem with an app of the same name on the Mac. I use both to capture things I need to get done, and they’re both an important part of my GTD system. I lived without an iPhone app for this for a long time, so I know I can live without it, but it’s a definite big step backwards. Omnigroup, the makers of these apps, is a Mac shop, so it’s enormously unlikely there will ever be a port to Android.

1Password

1Password is a password manager, which makes it simple to have secure passwords for sites, all protected in one virtual lockbox on your computer. Of course, it’s impossible to remember those secure passwords without 1Password at my fingertips, and the 1Password app on the iPhone provided a way to always have them with me. Again, it’s unlikely they’ll port this app, and it’s a loss for me.

More to Come

As I said, I’m committed to using the Droid exclusively for at least a week; I have thirty days to evaluate it under Verizon’s return policy. I’ll be posting more all week.

Hello World project on android.


Hello World project on android., originally uploaded by Stmpjmpr.

BMW M3 GTS

Bayerische Motoren Werke AG

The BMW M3 GTS looks hot! Hopefully they get this for the recently released Forza 3 as DLC. :)

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.