Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Let’s suppose you are a gourmet cook. You prepare a meal and share it with your friend. If he ever commented – “That was a wonderful meal. You must have some really good pots and pans!” you would likely introduce him to your carving knife.

People often comment on my photographs. It usually goes something like this – “What camera do you have?” or “Wow, you must have a nice camera!”


No tool can replace the photographer’s eye.

Here is my list of *fairly* inexpensive gift ideas for your favorite photographer.
Make sure you shop around, but get a base price from Amazon or B&H first.
If you find a price that is a lot less, something is probably not right.
The bitter taste of poor service lingers long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten!
Be sure to check out my gift guide from last year –

I really like photography. My first real camera was a film SLR; a Canon A-1. I purchased it in 1980 just before my first child was born. I loved that camera. It was the first multi-mode SLR – Aperture priority, Shutter priority and Manual. This should not be confused with what was probably the most popular camera of that period, the Canon AE-1. The AE-1 was shutter priority only. I had collected several nice FD lenses (manual focus): 50mm f1.4, 70-210mm f4.5, and 35-105mm f3.5. I even had the film winder. My old camera has been sitting in its bag for years now, ever since I purchased my first digital camera. I took it out the other day and noticed how the leather case was drying out and falling apart. I ditched the case and just enjoyed handling it for a while (no I didn’t shoot any film). As it lay on my desk I thought about what a waste it was just sitting there. My son has a Canon DSLR, but his collection of lenses is somewhat limited. We researched a bit and found a nice adapter ring that allows the use of FD lenses on today’s modern DSLRs. There are a few caveats – magnification, loss of light, and manual exposure only, but overall they are still useful. He immediately grabbed the 35-105 and the 70-210. He already had a 50mm f1.8 EF lens and the 18-55mm f3.5 kit lens (both auto focus and aperture). I’m glad the old lenses are getting some use now and being forced to shoot in manual requires you to think more about your shot and pay attention to the exposure. It’s like a mini course in photography.

This brings me to the leftovers – A-1 body, 50mm lens, and the winder. I have a lot of toys on my desk and the old A-1 seems to fit right in. I like just looking at it and picking it up every once in a while. I think it’s found a new home…….

Shot with my Canon 7D

I got a really nice OCZ Vertex2 SSD for my birthday. I wasn’t really looking for a major project this weekend, but I thought I’d give it a go. You can of course simply install the new drive, reinstall Windows, reinstall all of your software and then restore all of your data and settings from a recent backup. I chose a simpler, faster way. I cloned my existing C: drive onto the new SSD and then configured Windows to boot off of the new drive. After I was sure everything was working, I reformatted the old C: drive and made it available to the system as a new volume. Here are the basic steps to follow –

Continue reading ‘Replacing an old HDD with an SSD (Windows 7)’ »

My company recently decided to switch from Sprint Blackberries to AT&T and we had a choice between a BB Torch Slider or an iPhone4. I decided to try the iPhone. My personal phone is an aged HTC Touch Pro running WinMo 6. I’ve been off contract for almost 2 years now and am anxiously waiting for Verizon to offer a Phone7 device before I sign another contract. Sure I could go with any of a number of Android phones (some are pretty good), but I have a hankering for Phone7. It really saddens me to see the iPhone come to Verizon before a Phone7 device. I’ll wait until WMC2011 is over and hopefully I’ll have a better idea what to do (jump ship or go Android). I so want to have my current phone meet Mr. Sledgehammer!

As much as I Dislike Apple, I’m very glad to have the opportunity to play with an iPhone without a huge commitment on my part. It’s great when the company pays. Here are my thoughts on this device after a few month of using it in a corporate environment.

Continue reading ‘I have an iPhone, shhhhhhh’ »

I would label these suggestions as moderately priced. I don’t think anything is more than $200 and most are $100 or less. Don’t forget to check your baseline prices at Amazon!

Continue reading ‘20 Home Theater Gift Ideas’ »

These gift ideas are mostly on the inexpensive side (under $100). A few of them (like software upgrades) may be a bit more. These are nifty gadgets that any photographer will love and perhaps find indispensable.

Continue reading ‘20 Inexpensive Gift Ideas for the Photographer in your Life’ »

I’m from the old school of HiFi so please don’t misconstrue. I spent most of my high school and college years (~1970) lusting over MacIntosh, Marrantz and Bose. I remember hearing some Bose 901s and fell in love. Have you ever seen the Marrantz 150 FM tuner with the built-in oscilloscope? I got to play with these high end toys when I was young and they set my standards very high. Unfortunately my budget for such audiophile delights was non-existent. I bought my first true HiFi system in the Early 80s just as CDs were taking over. I was able to purchase a Kenwood system (all separate components) that pretty much fulfilled my audio lust –

  • 250 watt/channel Power Amp
  • Preamp
  • Surround Processor (w/ rear channel amp)
  • FM Tuner
  • Turntable
  • Dual Cassette Deck
  • CD Changer
  • Kenwood 3 way Speakers – 10” Woofers
  • Kenwood bookshelf rear Speakers

The components were all connected with a ‘network cable’ that allowed them to talk to each other. To listen to a CD you only had to turn on the CD player and it would switch on all of the other components and set up the inputs to play the CD. If you switched on the Turntable, it would switch everything over to that input automatically. I used it a lot for around 20 years. I used it to educate my children with the Beatles, Beach Boys, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Jazz. Over the last ten years I’ve hardly used it at all. Now I listen to music on portable systems (Zune with Etymotics ER4 ear buds), very nice audio systems in my cars, and on my computer. For critical listening on my computer I start with a high end Creative X-Fi sound card, into a wonderful little T-Amp that I built (modded), and finally drive a pair of Klipsch RB35 reference speakers. Since I installed my new HT System in the living room, my Kenwood HiFi has been sitting in the basement covered in plastic.

You can read about my T-AMP project here –

I still believe there is a value in high quality audio. My listening habits have changed over the years, but I still hate compromising on audio quality. I’ll get to my point now. I love quality electronic gear and my home theater reflects this –

  • Samsung LN46A950 46″ LCD with matrix backlighting
  • Samsung BDP3600 Bluray Player
  • Dish Network Duo DVR VIP 722
  • Yamaha YHT-591 5.1 Receiver (4:1 HDMI) 105W x 5
  • 10” 100w powered Sub-Woofer
  • (Harmony One remote of course)

I rarely use this system to listen to music except as background (with Pandora). This system is mainly for watching video. I didn’t mention the speakers and here is where I differ from the popular, expert opinions I often hear. I can possibly see a value in spending more for a good Center Channel speaker and a good Sub-Woofer. Installing huge floor standing stereo speakers for the L&R front channels seems like a waste to me. This also applies to any other channels you may have (5.1, 7.1, Height, etc). I’ve heard it stated that 90% of the audio from a movie comes out of the Center channel. I just can’t see spending thousands on the L&R fronts when they are of such minor importance to cinematic sound. I ‘need’ my speakers to sound OK for video and also take up little space (small living room). I have found that these Yamaha speakers fill my needs very well –

I understand that these small speakers are full of compromises. I also trust that some engineer at Yamaha designed them to sound as good as possible within the capabilities of the receiver and design constraints. My HT is not a dedicated room where I could hide the speaker so smaller satellite style speakers were a definite plus. I have the three identical front speakers flush mounted on the wall*** and the two rears are on adjustable wall mounts. For my needs and budget they are fine. My speakers are in phase and balanced. TV and even cinematic audio rarely involve a pure stereo musical listening experience (the exception being the big soundtrack movies like Top Gun). Most of the time the music is in the background with effects and dialog on top. This argument is similar to one I remember from years ago – high end audio in your car is dumb. The car is so noisy to begin with, high end audio is wasted. Yes, there are minimum quality levels that are acceptable. I simply believe that above those minimum levels the benefits drop off exponentially as cost increases. My HTIB audio system is not the best, it is good, perhaps even very good and doesn’t deserve the harsh opinions that systems of this type often receive. There are two major shortcomings of this HTIB that require some minor work to overcome. The Yamaha remote is simply horrible. This is easily overcome with the Harmony One. The second shortcoming is how power to the Subwoofer is controlled. It’s always powered on. There is no audio sensing circuitry that will turn it on when needed. The receiver has no switched power outlet on the back (no non-switched either). This was solved with a current sensing power strip. When the power strip senses the receiver power on, it turn on the subwoofer.

I was listening to the Home Theater Geeks podcast by Scott Wilkinson this week. He is a true audiophile at heart and firmly believes in all that label entails. His guest this week was very interesting if you can get past his personality – Jeff Rona. Jeff is a musician and makes a living scoring movies. He uses top-of-the-line Pro Audio gear in calibrated environments all day for his work. His home theater is much more modest. His reasons for this were music to my ears. The last 20 minutes of the interview is where he describes his home system.

Home theater Geeks interview with Jeff Rona –

*** Update
I have my TV wall mounted on an articulated Sanus mount. I have a window in the center of the wall and love the ability to move the TV over to the side when not in use (doesn’t block the window). Sometime I just watch it from the side. The wall mounted center speaker was sometimes several feet away from the TV. I recently found a center speaker mount from Sanus that securely holds the center speaker just below the TV. Now it’s perfectly placed no matter where the TV is positioned.

I just had my first experience shooting fireworks. I am very pleased with the results. This may seem daunting, but following a few simple tips will yield some great results. I started out searching the web for some basic exposure settings for fireworks. There are loads of pages to choose from. Here is where I started –

  • You need a tripod
  • You need a cable release
  • You need to shoot on full manual (including focus)
  • Aperture – start with f11 and see how that does, adjust to suit
  • Shutter – you need to shoot on the bulb setting (stays open as long as you press the button)

Fireworks are bright and you can use your slow outdoor zoom lenses (Yippee!). I suggest bringing a few different focal lengths. It’s hard to gauge how much zoom you may need. Fireworks are big. I started with a 70-300mm zoom and quickly switched to a 28-135mm zoom when I couldn’t zoom out enough. Fireworks are shot all over the sky so I kept my tripod head fairly loose. I would watch the shell lifting off and anticipate where it would blow. You need to move the camera quickly and then get your hands off to avoid shake. It’s very much trial and error, but fortunately they shoot a lot of fireworks. I mentioned manual focus above. It’s very important to switch off your auto-focus. Use the first few explosions to get your focus set and then leave it alone. Shooting at f11 will keep everything in focus for you. I discovered how important this is the hard way. When I switched lenses I still had the second lens set for auto focus. I’d press the shutter and nothing would happen for a few seconds and then the camera would take the shot after the shell had exploded. It couldn’t focus in the dark until the shell blew. Here are some of my shots from the Oak Bluffs, Mass annual fireworks –

Oak Bluffs Fireworks

Oak Bluffs Fireworks

Oak Bluffs Fireworks

Oak Bluffs Fireworks


Last year I finally made the jump into High Definition TV. Several factors coming to together helped push me over the edge. Up until this point there had been many disappointments and a general lack of standards. 2008 saw the following confluence of events:

  • 1080p became the defacto Resolution standard
  • 120hz Refresh Rates became common (no more 3:2:2 pull down)
  • LED Matrix Backlighting became a viable contender to Plasma
  • Blu-Ray won the disc format battle
  • HDMI emerged as an Interconnect standard

My Home Theater system is fairly standard, but very high quality. It has a receiver that can switch 4 HDMI inputs and a slew of other types, a dual room DVR (Dish Network), Blu-Ray Player, Wii Console, a portable media player, and perhaps in the future – something like the Syabas PopBox streamer. There is nothing exotic, but in order to control the system I need 4 remotes and the one for the receiver was especially poor (Yamaha). I love gadgets and understand how things are connected and exactly what needs to be set to make it work, but I will admit that having to keep track of and use all of those remotes is a pain. Here is where the Bliss comes in – I also purchased a high end Harmony One universal remote control.


Continue reading ‘Home Theater Bliss’ »