Earwig: "Speedway at Nazareth" by Mark Knopfler

Ever since we went to see Mark Knopfler in Oakland last month, I’ve had this track “Speedway at Nazareth” playing in my head. I listen to it at least once a day, and I usually tweak the equalizer to pump up the bass in that wonderful last line. It’s a clever composition: an account of the 2001 NASCAR season told in the style of a Civil War campaign song. It came out on the 2000 album “Sailing to Philadelphia”, and the studio recording does a decent job of capturing the intensity of the instrumental jam at the end of the song.
And now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got to put on the headphones again…

The week's twitterings – 2010-05-09

  • Why is commentary on today's science tv so awful? Watching "Kilauea" on PBS; lousy mysticism, awful metaphors, and near-illiterate language #
  • On the day I head back to Shenzhen, the NYTimes takes on the mangled English of Chinglish http://nyti.ms/ciaty7 #
  • Hmmph!! @CathayPacific just cancelled my window seat and gave me an aisle instead. I argued, and got another window, but w-a-a-y back 🙁 #

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Unintended consequences with my iPad

Here’s a weird unintended effect. Yesterday morning I was working on my iPad using the BlueTooth keyboard. When I was done, I chatted to a colleague while I turned off the iPad and put both iPad and keyboard in my shoulder bag. Suddenly music started playing from my bag! Then stopped. Then started again!
Eventually we realized that the media buttons on the keyboard were active, and were starting and stopping the iTunes app as the keyboard bumped around in my bag! The only way to fix this was to turn off BT on the iPad….

File under "Bugs to be fixed before we ship…."

My ex-colleague* from Amazon.com, Jeff Barr, has a new book coming out soon on AWS and EC2 practices. Oddly enough, the “I’d like to read this book on Kindle” link is prominently displayed next to it. C’mon, Jeff: do you really need to be asked?

* Hmm. Perhaps that should be “colleague and former co-worker”. “Colleague” shouldn’t imply the same employer, should it? But “former co-worker” is clumsy. Neologism needed!

Technology trickle-down

Here’s my latest review from Amazon.com. While the review addresses a particular product, there’s a more general question – how quickly does technology “trickle down” – that I’d like to dig into sometime. I would be curious to track various consumer electronics features to see how long it takes for an innovation to make the transition from “expensive differentiator” to “Wal-mart standard”. Anyway, here’s my take on the “Fujifilm FinePix S1800 12.2 MP Digital Camera with 18x Wide Angle Optical Dual Image Stabilized Zoom”:

Technology trickle-down needs to be given a bit longer… [Two stars]
We take the “trickle-down” of technology for granted, and nowhere more so than in digital photography. A couple of years ago, most cameras had sensors that could register 3-4 megapixels and “optical zoom” of 3x. Indeed zoom was so pitiful that camera incorporated the widely ridiculed “digital zoom” which traded image quality for zoom. Things like 10MP sensors and zooms of greater than 12x were the province of the semi-pro and DSLR crowd, and commanded commensurate prices. Today, every camera can handle more pixels than we know what to do with, and even shirt-pocket sub-compacts can do impressive optical zooms using bizarre optical plumbing.
I used to have a rule: buy the best digital camera I could get for $250. Every 18 months I would get a new device which absolutely knocked the socks off its predecessor. Technology trickle down.
But how fast does stuff trickle down? And what happens if a manufacturer gets it wrong?
Coincidentally, I got hold of the subject of this review, the Fujifilm S1800, just a few days after I’d bought myself a Nikon Coolpix P90. On paper, they look fairly comparable. The S1800 is 12MP, with 18x zoom; the P90 is 12.1MP with 24x zoom. (But how often will I care about the difference between 18x and 24x?) Both have image stabilization (essential at high zoom, unless you carry around a tripod), and loads of fancy features which take forever to learn. The biggest difference is the price: the P90 cost me just under $400, while the S1800 is $204 – almost half the price. Clearly the S1800 is a great demonstration of technology trickle-down: features which used to be expensive are now available at a more modest price.
Well, maybe not. My partner and I tried the S1800 in various settings – portraits, landscapes, action shots, bird-watching, macro – and neither of us was impressed. The autofocus light is extraordinarily bright: portrait subjects were literally dazzled by it. Action shots and birdwatching were frustrating, because the shutter lag is so bad. Landscapes? Every shot required color rebalancing. And the slow, noisy zoom discourages the use of the available 18x magnification.
You can see a couple of comparative shots at my MobileMe gallery – go to gallery.me.com/geoffarnold#100132

The S1800 certainly includes a number of interesting features, and I’d encourage you to see if any of them address your personal photography needs. It offers HD video, but frankly if I want video recording I’m going to use a dedicated camcorder like my trusty JVC Everio GZ-HM200. But at the end of the day, I felt that the FinePix S1800 wasn’t ready for prime time – that the relevant technologies had not yet “trickled down” to the point where they were really usable. The worst offender is the shutter lag, which is probably symptomatic of a range of small design choices and technology selections.
I’m sticking with my P90.

The Joseph D. Grant Park

I’m going to be travelling for the next three weeks, and so yesterday was filled with packing, shopping, and taking care of a bunch of stuff. With that completed, today was declared a field trip. Usually that involves heading to the ocean, but for a change we drove inland, to the Joseph D. Grant Park in the mountains behind San Jose. Our optimistic objective was to get all the way to the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton, but we were flexible.
Google Maps suggested that the best way to get to the park was to go down 101 to Tully Road, and then go east on Quimby Road. Quimby is an amazing drive. I had to concentrate on my driving, but as we climbed out of San Jose I could hear Kate saying “Wow!” as the panorama of Silicon Valley unfolded. (Later exclamations were mostly in reference to the width of the road and the tightness of the hairpin bends.)
View from the Rose GardenWe set off on a trail that looped down the valley and back, about two miles. Almost immediately, we saw some kind of creature on the meadows above us. The unaided eye couldn’t identify it, but maximum zoom on my Nikon P90 pulled it in: a wild turkey:
Wild turkey about a quarter of a mile away.
More pictures from the trail:
Meadow scene Meadow scene By the stream Did woodpeckers really do all that?! What are those darker clumps? Epiphytic? Parasitic? Red-tailed Hawk Looking back across the valley Owl's Clover California Poppies California Poppy
After completing the trail, we decided to follow CA-130 towards the Lick Observatory. I was under the illusion that because it was a numbered state highway, it was going to be wider and faster than Quimby Road, but after a few miles I realized my mistake. There was another complication: traffic. There were very few cars, but many cyclists and motor-cyclists. Going downhill was no problem – in fact the cyclists went faster than I did – but uphill was a different story. Eventually we turned a corner and got our first sight of the observatory, several thousand feet above us. There was a trail-head car park on the left, and we decided to stop and have lunch.
Here are the photos that I took of the Lick Observatory, at 1x and 24x zoom:
Mount Hamilton with the Lick Observatory (no zoom) Mount Hamilton with the Lick Observatory - 24x zoom.
After lunch, we decided to abandon the Lick and head home. The Prius likes this kind of downhill run: I don’t think the main engine came on the whole way down….

The week's twitterings – 2010-05-02

  • RT @acroll: IMHO, AMZN model of composed, discrete services […] are the future of private and public IT #interop #
  • WTF is #Skype error 5621? Took me 20 minutes and 6-8 attempts before I could dial in to a conference call in China this evening…. #
  • Tweaked my itinerary for my May 3-22 RTW trip: I'm going to Shenzhen instead of Xi'an. So it'll be SFO-HKG-LHR-NCE-JFK-SFO, on CX, BA and DL #
  • Looks like @UnitedAirlines and @Continental will tie the knot on Monday. Combined airline will be called United. Hope they keep EconomyPlus. #
  • What is it with Tweeters who post cool stuff but mix it up with incessant "thanks for retweets" messages? Think signal-to-noise, people! #
  • Monday I'm flying SFO-HKG on @CathayPacific, & I just checked in. Last week: very few open seats – no windows! Today: wide open! I got 31K. #
  • I'm nervous, because @CathayPacific Y seats don't recline – they slide forward and down. Lousy for my back. I swore "never again", but…. #

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