Saturday, December 24, 2005

A modest iPod (case) mod

Whilst in Cleveland recently, I picked up a new case for my iPod, made by Init. It's a very stylish leather case with some padding and didn't cost an arm and a leg. One problem: no belt clip. Instead, the back sports a small D-ring where you can attatch a wrist strap. I have no need for the wrist strap and was just carrying it around in my jacket pocket when my (very bright) wife suggested I hook a carabiner to the D-ring and attach that to my belt loop.

The mod works even better than a belt clip because I can lift the case up easily and fiddle with the iPod without taking it off my belt. And it doesn't swing around on my hip as much as I thought it would (the carabiner I'm using has a very tight bend at one end, which prevents the D-ring from moving too much). I'm really pleased so far, but I haven't tried it out in the real world yet, so I'll reserve any final judgment.

I may be out of the loop for a week since I'm flying to Calgary for Christmas to be with family. So in the meantime, I wish my reader(s) a very Happy Holidays and a 2006 filled with love, friendship and peace.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The field narrows

My search for a digicam is starting to home in on a few candidates. But before I get to that, I want to thank the people who made suggestions and comments on my last post.

Jovifan mentioned the Fuji 4.1 MP camera her boyfriend bestowed upon her (lucky girl). And while it looks like a nice basic camera, I really am looking for a camera with better resolution than that.

Next up, D'arcy Norman, another Fuji user, mentioned his Fujifilm FinePix E510. To go by the photos on his blog, this quite a good camera. Among other things, you can manually control the aperture size and shutter speeed, which is a big plus IMO. However, the video resolution isn't great, and D'arcy did mention that the flash takes forever to recharge.

Finally, Peter Collins, who is quite a fine photographer himself and runs his own little online retouching business thinks I should just bite the bullet and go the DSLR route right away. Pete, you're not helping matters one bit! I've agonized over this for months, finally (for the time being) coming down on the side of portablility. I don't need you to rub salt in the wound. But joking aside, portability really is a deciding facture right now, and while a camera like the Rebel XT is quite small (some say too small in fact), it's still too bulky to be lugging around Europe for three weeks, especially if you don't have a car.

Indeed, the size factor is haunting me more and more. I've been looking very seriously at Canon's lineup. As far as I can tell, they have the best reputation of all the digital camera manufacturers, and their cameras have some very nice features for very competetive prices. I've been looking at two model types, each of which has a high- and a low-end model: the SD450/550 and the A610/620. To give you an idea, here is a link to a page on the Digital Photography Review website comparing the A620 and the SD550 side by side. The two are very similar in most respects. Both have 7.1 megapixels, both have very nice video functions. But the main differences illustrate, in a nutshell, the features I'm wrestling with. The SD550 is nice and compact with a big 2.5" LCD screen, while the A620 has manual aperture and shutter options, along with a sweet 4X optical zoom, but is somewhat bulkier and has a smaller, 2" LCD screen. The low-end models mirror these differences and don't make the choice any easier.

I guess it comes down to wanting my cake and eating it too. Decisions decisions. Anyway, as of this moment, I'm leaning toward the A610, which seems like a very nice quality/price ratio. But catch me in an hour and I might be dreaming about how nice the SD550 would feel in my breast pocket...

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Digital camera woes

I'm in the market for my first digital camera, and my head is spinning. The possible permutations of features seem infinite--a situation not helped by the fact that I'm not really sure what I want.

My heart was initially set on a digital SLR, but realistically, the cost and size of these cameras have more or less eliminated them (though I have a feeling that some sort of Nikon DSLR is somewhere in my future). Right now, I'm looking for a good point-and-shoot compact camera. I've narrowed my desired specs down a little, but I have no experience with DP, so I'm at sea here: something around 5-6 megapixels in the 400-Canadian-dollar range, with decent video resolution (i.e., 640x480) and unlimited clip length. Some incarnation of a 35-105 mm equivalent optical zoom would be nice. I don't think any of these point-and-shoot cameras have great lenses anyway, even if they are Leica or Zeiss or what have you, so I don't think it's much of a factor (but feel free to abuse and/or disabuse me on this point). I don'’t care much about a viewfinder, but a nice big LCD screen would be a bonus. And of course, it should play nice with my Macs.

I was looking at some Pentax Optios, but they don't seem to be officially supported by iPhoto and apparently add some funky metadata to the Library.iphoto file, so I'm close to crossing Pentax off my list altogether. Too bad because they offer a nice 6mp Optio that's reportedly waterproof.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Apple Store good and bad

So, as crossover readers of FFTMC know, I was on a gig in Cleveland last week: eight long days of rehearsals, recordings and concerts, with a good dose of snow mixed in for good measure. Amid the frenzy of sackbuts and cornetti, I managed to find a few hours to hit the Apple Store in Cleveland (actually, it's in Cleveland Heights, in the ritzy Legacy Village shopping centre). It was my first ever visit to an Apple store and I was suitably impressed. Every possible combination of Apple gear was on display, including several of the incredible 30-inch Cinema Displays. Until last week, I was pretty happy with my 20-incher; now I'm lusting after that monster, even though I know it's a pipe dream for at least three years. But the best part was that the guy at the genius bar fixed my Ethernet port.

I've had this iBook for over four years now and I had never previously been successful in connecting to the Internet via the Ethernet port. The first 2-and-a-half years I was on dial-up (!) so it didn't matter. In fact, I didn't even realize there was a problem until I finally gave in and got a DSL hookup last year. When I tried to plug into my modem, I got nada. Luckily, Airport and a wireless router solved the problem, but I always wondered about the Ethernet port and had always suspected that I had some obscure setting wrong. So I was gratified and relieved when the Apple Store genius showed me that two of the pins in the port were depressed and so not connecting. He took it in the back and worked some magic and voila, I have my Ethernet port back. Not that I use it, but was nice to finally know what the problem was. I left the store with a Nano for my wife and an iSight camera for my mother's future iBook.

My second trip of the week to the Cleveland Apple Store came toward the end of my stay. I wanted to get a new case for my own iPod and had some per diem money left over. So I go in and start trying out cases. Shortly thereafter, an employee approaches me and informs me in a haughty voice that their policy is that the packaging is not to be opened (I should say that none of the cases I was looking at were shrink wrapped or in sealed boxes; I was not destroying any packaging). So I politely asked if they had some demos I could try out, to which he replied with a sniff that they couldn't POSSIBLY have demos for ALL the iPod cases. I again politely stated that I didn't want to buy an iPod case without taking a look at it first and trying it out. His reply (his politeness was pretty forced by now) was that he quite understood, but that their policy (which, incidentally, was posted nowhere in the store) was that the packaging was not to be opened, because then no one would want to buy the merchandise. To which I replied that I certainly wouldn't be buying it if I couldn't open it, and walked out of the store in search of a Best Buy--where they were quite happy to let me try out as many cases as I liked.

Maybe I was just tired from being on the road and looking for something to bitch about, but my second impression was not a good one. The store had every product Apple makes on display, just screaming out to be touched and handled and explored. Why make an exception for iPod cases? They don't want the cheap third-party stuff to get wrecked? Very bizarre, to say the least.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Life before OS X

Do you remember what life was like with OS 9? I had forgotten but got a rude reminder on Wednesday.

This week, I decided to bite the bullet do something I'd been putting off for months: wipe my iBook's hard drive and do a clean install of Tiger. Reinstalling an OS is not something we Mac users are used to doing, but this poor system had taken so much abuse over the last year I decided a clean slate would be the best thing. With my relatively recent acquisitions of a Mini and an iPod, I had no use for the many gigabytes of mp3s and photos taking up space on that machine, not to mention all the duplicates of my old work files. The 30Gb drive was getting close to full, which was slowing down the machine.

Another thing I wanted to do was get OS 9 back up and running on the iBook because my wife has been bugging me to install a program that only runs on the old system (don't get me started about "Mac compatible--OS 8.1-9.2 only--applications"). All in all, given this was my first wipe and reinstall ever, it went pretty smoothly. I managed to back everything up, get Tiger and OS 9 installed, and pretty much everything restored over the course of an evening.

The real fun started the next morning when it came time to install the typing software S. wanted to use. The thing would install but when I tried to launch it, it would crash immediately. After much cursing and flailing about, I finally realized the problem was that this software was so ancient it used an older version of Quicktime. I had naively upgraded to 6.03 when OS 9 informed me that things would run much more smoothly if I did. So it was a question of trying to figure out how to uninstall the newer version (turns out you have to choose custom install from the INSTALLER then choose uninstall... very intuitive Apple! Bravo) and then install Quicktime 5, which was included on the typing program CD. Thing is, this version of Quicktime 5 was in French. Shouldn't make a difference, you say? I agree. One little problem though: the French Quicktime installer installed the extension "Gestionnaire Audio," the French equivalent of Sound Manager. I can't tell you how many times I had to restart OS 9 with various combinations of extensions disabled before I finally figured out that the French and English sound managers were yelling at each other. Once the referendum ballots were counted and all parties agreed that the French sound manager should go its separate way* (read: disabled), OS 9 booted fine and the program worked perfectly. (Incidentally, I'm pretty sure I could have just as easily disabled the English version and had similar results.)

How did we ever work like this? Granted, extension conflicts weren't an everyday occurence in the last millennium, but still, troubleshooting could be a real PITA in pre-X versions of Apple OS. Save extension set, reboot holding shift, rinse, repeat. Ugh! OS X has its problems too, as do all OS's, but at least its pretty. OS 9's grey screen and pixellated icons make me want to puke. I hope I don't have to go there again for a good long time.

*Canadian joke.