COMPUTERS & PHOTOGRAPHY


See some of my photo collection.





15/3/2017 - Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ80 Super Zoom Camera

I've been using a Fuji Finepix HS20 EXR (30 x optical zoom) for some years now as my knockabout compact, which is not at all bad, but have been noticing that friends with Lumix cameras are getting better, in fact superb results.

My main SLR is the lovely Nikon Df, which has retro styling and takes a huge range of their lenses from current to way back!

Here's a review at PhotographyBlog.com which covers all the techicals, from the 60x optical zoom (!) to the high-resolution "4k" still and video capability, and the high-ish res 1040k viewfinder. It all sounds like just the upgrade I need!

It'll be between $A500 and $600 here as it's $US400 overseas.


21/9/2016 - New "Medium Format" Fuji GFX Camera Coming

A 51MP sensor, a new range of lenses to be released during 2017, and an add-on viewfinder make this a cross between a Bronica and a mirrorless compact. Bound to be expensive, but looks great.

More details via AVHUB and at PetaPixel.


20/1/2016 Upgraded to iPad 3

Yes, I guess I should have done this ages ago, but having paid top dollar for the 64GB + 3G model soon after they came out, I waited until the 3 had devalued to a more affordable level and bought two - a 32GB + cellular for $300 (for her), and a 64GB + Cellular for $350 (for me).

They are great - loading sites easily now that the old ones struggled on. Lovely screen. They were in excellent condition, battery life still good, and with new smart covers they look like new anyway.

20/1/2016 Windows 10 - So Far, So Good

There are a lot of groans around about Windows 10. I've now installed it on two computers, one some 4 months ago and the second one about a month ago. It has been quite seamless and nothing has been lost in the changeover.

Those who are complaining are usually saying they've lost files or some functionality. I hope they can get those fixed, but (fingers crossed) two out of two so far and no hiccups.

3/6/2015 - Google Photo Launched

Move over Picasa, Google Photo is a whole new ball game. See their blog post.

21/5/2015 - Windows 10 Gets Closer!

An email from Microsoft just hit my inbox, inviting a closer look at Windows 10. Having disliked 8 and 8.1, I'm going to be very happy (I hope!) to move on and try 10.


19/5/2015 - Olympus DSLR "Looks Like A Metal Body Film Camera"

There's no doubting the trend towards retro looks in both DSLR and mirrorless digital cameras, usually towards the higher end of the market. That's understandable - they look cool. I would like my next camera to be a Nikon Df (see down the page) for just this reason, as well as making the move from DX up to the larger sensor of an FX camera. That could be a bit costly, as my main lense (still good, AF-S ED Nikkor 18-200mm) for the old D80 is DX, which will not cover the entire FX sensor. But the Df takes any Nikon lense, even the older film era models, which will do just that, albeit with some loss of modern functions.

The Olympus OM-D EM5 Mk.II is a heavy hitting 16meg camera with a multitude of inbuilt control systems. It allows full manual control or a range of auto functions. At $A1200 for the body alone, it's not super expensive, but is aimed at the serious amatuer or the pro who wants a good compact unit as well as their bigger gear.

Good Gear Guide have just put up a review here.


Next iPhone DSLR Camera Quality Hype

The rumours are starting about the next iPhone already, and there's one about improved camera quality, taking it up to DSLR territory. I share the author's reservations about this. Yes, tiny cameras have come a long way and do amazing things, but the reason DSLRs are big is to do with (i) the size of multi-element lenses and (ii) larger sensors which capture more info - and then there's DX and FX.

While the next generation of phones might have even better cameras in them, I can't see DSLRs disappearing for a long time. My next purchase (just waiting for it to depreciate a bit more!) will be the Nikon Df - suits my retro style and takes me up from the smaller DX sensor to the full size FX. See down the page for more about it.


Full Frame (FX) Digital SLR Comparison

A very useful comparative look at all the full frame CMOS sensor equipped SLRs from Nikon, Canon, Sony, by Gizmag.


The Latest From Photokina In Pictures!

Just go to the link and start clicking on the right arrow. Many amazing things to see there.


Digital Versus Film - Why Not Collect and Use Film Cameras? Part 1

We've been having the argument about analogue versus digital in the audio world seemingly forever. The critics had a point in the early days of CD, less of a point as CD (recordings and playback) improved vastly by the turn of the century, but no point now that hi-res audio delivers absolutely everything, no missing ambience, slam or rhythm, or anything else LP-philes dream up (and I have a large collection of them plus a very good turntable) - everything is there except the surface noise and the master tape hiss.

Early digital cameras had their problems too, and some of them are (dare I say?) analogous to those experienced in audio. Not enough megapixels, digital artifacts, colour changes, and even the speed at which each frame was written to memory. My first decent digital camera was the Fuji Finepix 4900, which was really only 2.4Mp, but they fudged it higher. The lens wasn't too bad, and it took reasonable pictures, but the battery life was appalling. You wouldn't go anywhere for the day without a spare rechargeable. It also cost as much as a decent Nikon digital SLR now costs! That was in 2002, or thereabouts.

But the cost savings and utility of the digital camera ensured that my use of film tapered off quickly. I wasn't that flush with cash, and my film habit was costing too much. Even cutting down the processing cost by not getting prints, just a scan on CD-ROM, was only a holding operation. Eventually all my film camera gear went, the F801s, two excellent Nikon AF ED lenses, classy Speedlight. All gone. It was years before I started to miss all that. Later I acquired a Nikon D80 digital SLR and a superb AF-S Nikkor 18-200 ED lens which covers everything pretty well.

So where are the people clamouring that film is superior and telling us that sales of film increased by 100% from a pathetically low base - at least somewhere in the world? Yes, they're out there, pleading the case for the "emotional content" or the greater dynamic range of film, truer representation of highlights, and so on. They say it's better as an archival medium. Having just done a lot of scans of colour slides, I found many problems with my films, including graininess and good old fashioned dirt. The amount of grain increases with the speed of the film. But there may be a "grain" of truth in the assertion that the expense of film is not so bad compared to the cost of upgrading to better digital cameras as the megapixels and functionality improves - not to mention new sensors, like CMOS replacing the former CCD, and then larger sensors! Then there are those great older lenses made with love, and actual glass. On it goes!

Here are a couple of links to advocates of film. Why Use Digital? and Ten Reasons To Use Film

Apart from the mystique of the analogue aspect, those older film Nikons still have stylistic elan. I used to have a metal-bodied FM camera, and briefly owned a sub-standard F2, in fact two of those, neither in great shape. An F4 was the Pro Camera of the nineties, way out of my reach even secondhand, going for several thousand dollars. I had several other Nikons as well, but the FM and F2 were the ones I was most fond of in terms of form and function. The F and F3 didn't excite me so much. The F looks too primitive, while the F3 lacks the unique charm of the F2. The F5 somehow missed hitting my charm buttons too. It's just plain massive - and rubbery looking.

It was nice to just handle those old classic cameras, and I hankered after that experience again. Even if I didn't fire them with film in them, which I may do, they make fabulous display pieces. So, what are they costing these days, and do they have the potential to be collectable? The answer is (i) a lot less than they used to, and (ii) no, not unless they are an unusual model and in mint condition.

Here are are two sites, one actually selling stuff in the USA (not sure what their freight costs are) and the other one highlighting special Nikon models.

Update: I've run some film through the Nikon F4 and am now doing the same again with the F2. Results mixed, but I'll do a fill report later.


Part 2 - The Charm of Old Film Cameras

My aspirations in collecting are modest. I just want to have good, clean examples of cameras I like the look and feel of. They might appreciate in value, they might not. If I want to try a film from time to time I can. Chances are they won't go much lower, as they are already pretty low in price - famous last words? I'm not going to buy designated "hot collectibles" just because they are that. I can't stretch to higher prices, and the hot ones might not be the ones I like anyway!

A very good condition but not mint F4 will cost you only about a tenth of what it did in the 1990s, if you hunt around for it. I got mine from Japan for $320 including a basic AF lens and speedy international delivery. It's not going to be collectible any time soon, but it's a thing of beauty, something I could never have afforded back when I was a regular film user. Update: have loaded it with a film and am now taking shots, beautifully smooth action, speedy autofocus, feels gooood!

This quote from Ken Rockwell's site says it nicely: "The indomitable Nikon F4 is the most innovative camera ever introduced by Nikon, or probably anyone. The Nikon F4 is what brought cameras into this modern era. The F4 shattered more new barriers and advanced more technology in bigger steps than Nikon had ever done before, or has ever done since. Nikon's digital SLRs and F5 and F6 are nice, but still none of them, not even the D3, is as earth-shattering as was the F4 at its introduction.

F3 bodies go for around $350-500. There are a lot of variants. It may be more collectible than my chosen ones, but what the hell. I like others better. You decide. Update: picked up a nice F3 HP with just a minor dent, great price, so added to the display.

FM2 bodies go for anything from $199 upwards, but they are often a bit battered at that level. I picked one up with hardly a mark on it though. For some reason the FM3s go for a lot more. Some say it was the last great manual film camera Nikon made. But the FM2 will do just fine for my purposes.

The F2 Photomic with DP-1 viewfinder is a thing of beauty too, although by today's standards this is a primitive device, but a marvel of mechanical engineering on a small scale. Again the trick is to find one in really nice condition, and that can be hard or more expensive. A good body only you might pick up for $200-$300. That's with no scratches, or brass showing through on the corners and edges of the metal body. It may have to come from USA or Japan. My F2 came from Canada, but more have appeared on the market since, and some of the best condition ones are in Japan. A lens to match might cost an extra $100 or more.

Later autofocus (AF) film cameras like the F401/601/801 had plastic bodies with inbuilt motor drive for the film. I used the F801s for about five years and was very happy with it at the time. Not so much the autofocus, which was fairly shonky at that stage, but the metering and ease of use - including (if you wanted it) auto-exposure partly based on an internal library of thousands of scenes! I recently picked up a F401 body, an F801 body (the earlier non "s" version, much the same) and two lenses for $130 the lot, all in working condition. That's how devalued those ones are!

I used the F801s in manual a fair bit, but found it excellent in all respects. Looking back at the metering on the FM2 now, it's pretty basic! Even the older needle-type light meters (inbuilt) gave you a better idea of how far over or under you were. The F801s was technologically way ahead of the metal bodied ones, and motor drive film advance was cool back then. It had a lot of the features of the F4, but not the build standard - and weight. There were a lot of good lenses available, as is usual with Nikon. On Moose Peterson's advice (The NikonSystem Handbook) I had the 35-70mm f/2.8 AF ("an incredibly sharp lens, shot wide open at any focal length") and the 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6 AF ("the sleeper of the decade! It is beautifully sharp and handles extremely easily considering its focal length").

I also had the little and inexpensive 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5, and now have two of those to put onto my "display" AF cameras. You can still use this with modern digital SLRs. Here's Moose's summary in part: "The amazing thing about this lens is its incredible sharpness. Even when in macro mode at the 70mm setting the lens retains its sharp image quality. Many photographers did not give it much thought because of its low price, but those who use it swear by it."

What next? Well, probably I'll add a Pentax Spotmatic for old times' sake. It was the first (and very popular) SLR that had through-the-lens metering with open aperture; also marketed in the USA as the Honeywell Pentax. It was my first serious camera! It had screw-mount lenses (as did the Practica), so you could changes lenses or add macro tubes for close-up magic.

I haven't enough space for a Zenza Bronica ETRSi with three lenses, like the one I had for a while in the 1990s, but never mind. That's enough camera clutter to add to the cave!

Whoops! Update: Now have a Zenza Bronica ETRSi (with just one lens, but also a metering prism finder and waist-level finder - like in the model shoots!) and it's a real pleasure to handle one again. Gorgeous things they are. Sort of poor man's Hasselblad, which they resemble, but cost a fraction of because ...

Further Update: couldn't resist a cheap Nikon F body from the USA. This is the immediate predesessor of the F2, as you'd guess. Essentially similar but with earlier metering prism. I wasn't going to bother with it, but at the price ... like the F3, too good to miss.


Nikon Makes A Retro Digital Camera For Filmophiles

The Df DSLR looks a lot like Nikon's metal-bodied film cameras from a couple of decades ago, before the plastic bodied ones with motor drive became the thing. It will also gladden the hearts of all those who have hung onto their old lenses, since the body accepts them all, including Ai and pre-Ai ones.

Sadly, I'm not one of them, having sold all my older Nikon gear during periods of poverty, and taking up Digital, which allowed more flexible usage of images while costing less/nothing in processing. Pity, some of my old Nikon lenses were great! And, I have to say, I loved the look of those older bodies. I owned a number of them over the years, and perhaps the little FM was in many ways ideal.

"Speaking of which, the Df is compatible with not only current AF, AF-S, DX and AF-D lenses, but Ai and non-Ai Nikkor glass going all the way back to 1959, the year in which the manufacturer introduced its first F-series SLR. This compatibility comes with enhanced functionality courtesy of a new metering coupling lever on the bayonet mount."

Here's the first report I saw of it, at Engadget, where I'm always pleased to find something that's not about phones.

But here is the Gizmodo report, which has much better pictures and more info. You'd have to buy the silver!

Update: Did you know you can still buy a Millenium edition of the Nikon FM2 film camera? Not cheap though!

I think I'll have to gather a few of those older camera bodies to display, for old times' sake. They are such nice looking things. Start with an F2 and an FM2. More on that later.

Also: cnet review of the Df camera is here, with some test shots.


Backing up iTunes from iPod

After a couple of computer changeovers I got a bit blasé about being able to copy across my iTunes library, but the other day I noticed that the most recent update, to a new HP tower PC, had lost a number of albums along the way. My iPod Classic had a lot more music on it than my PC! To make matters worse, I couldn't access the old hard drive any more.

Most of it was loaded from CD, so the slow way was to reload it all, amounting to about 100 CDs. The quicker way to get this done was to use a program that treats the iPod as an attached drive and back up the music to iTunes. Why iTunes doesn't include this facility is probably political, but Apple are happy to recommend any number of programs that do it.

I chose IPOD2PC, which cost me $19.95. I don't mind paying for software that does a good job for a fair price, and this one is pretty foolproof. After a bit of a false start, the program looked at what I have on the iPod and what I have in iTunes, and then it set about filling in the gaps. Some programs just dump the whole lot across.

Even so, it took a couple of hours as there was a fair bit. Surprisingly, it also restored the playlists, which also took a while to do as one of my playlists (I don't use many) seemed to include just about every classical work! Must review that.

So now I have a complete library again, with a minimum of fuss. Next job: back up the entire library to another external drive!

Lens Switch Service

Sigma go one better then the old Tamron Adaptall gadgetry, and offer (for a fee) to convert your Sigma lens mount from one type to another, say from Nikon to Canon, or vice versa. Cheaper than a new lens, if you have a quality model! In the old days there was a lot less to do, so the Tamron adaptor worked. Now there's a whole lot of electronics involved too.


_____________________________________________________________________________


JVC Adixxion Video Camera

Digital video cameras are certainly getting better and cheaper. Here's a new edition of JVC's go-anywhere documentary maker the Adixxion. It is waterproof, HD, slow-motion capable, good audio.... the list goes on!

Touch Interface - The Future

How far can the touch screen interface be pushed? Are we sacrificing the precision that a mouse and keyboard gives us?

Ross Rubin covers this in his latest article for Engadget, Touchy Subject, finishing on that very note: "... it will take years before we will be able to know which company made the right bet in where touch belongs, even if it comes at the expense of desktop precision."

There's somehting of a mania for touch interfaces, brought on by the popularity of iPads and smart phones. But I for one hate typing on them, and find the imprecision of the touch interface a pain. It's not that I don't like the iPad, I use it every day. But for reading the papers and other sites, or watching some video. Not for doing any serious work.


Retro Camera Rule!

The Olympus Pen E-P5 is the latest in what's becoming a very long line of little digital cameras that look just like the old film ones. See the review here.

I still think the Fuji (scroll down this page) is a better looker.


Tablets, Phones, Access

The Daily Telegraph has a Harvey Norman ad with tablets from $68, although that one's a 7" and has just 4GB of memory. More at $250-270 with 16GB or 32GB, and they're from Samsung and Asus. Apple's 10" iPad range starts at $539 for the 16GB, and the 7" is a less disastrous $369, but still a premium.

Samsung's Android touchphone offerings are starting lower and lower, and Apple is late to the party. I hear that they are planning to offer a cheaper iPhone soon - probably in response to the Samsung broadside.

But the hard fact of life are that even if you get the phone for nothing, the cost of a good coverage deal from Telstra (forget Optus and the others who use their network - unless you live in the right place it's fairly useless for anything but calls, due to poor coverage and system overloads) is $600 per annum. Unless you really live in or work with your phone it's just not worth it.


Mobile Entertainment - Not!

Maintaining access to the web for entertainment, info and email has become routine via smartphones and 3G tablets. There is every reason to believe that this trend will continue, but there are some flies in the ointment.

I have a semi-smart Samsung Galaxy Ace phone which at present is on the Optus network. If I'm on 3G it gets little or no reception either at work or at home. The experience of my workmates was the same, when for a very frustrating period they switched from Telstra to Vodaphone (also an Optus network user) and found it virtually useless.

The bottom line here, in my opinion, is that Optus are not offering what consumer affairs might term "a merchantable product". If you can't get reception everywhere around Sydney, what good is it?

I've been reduced to switching back to 2G to at least keep my phone calls from dropping out. This is a poor situation, and the much reduced price is not much comfort.

The "wireless" future when you're out and about is not so bright if you're not with Telstra. But Telstra plans cost $50/month for a basic one, with additional fees for calls and messages. You have to go to $60/month to get something more satisfactory. To be frank, that's not going to happen for me, a light user of this technology. $720 a year is too much, and can be put to better uses - unless a business usage comes into the picture, which can change everything. But if it's down to little ol' me, no way.

So the way ahead for now remains a hybrid system. Part One: Use the el cheapo Optus phone deals (they are very cheap) for the family's herd of phones. Run 2G for better phonecall coverage. Part Two: use a Telstra chip in the iPads and only charge them up when you really need to. If you don't need 3G for a few months, there's no charge. If you need it, you go online and activate. It's also a lot better value visually - using the iPad to access web-based stuff is much better than using a phone.

There's some discussion (mostly not optimistic) on the web about universal wifi installations (on rooftops etc rather than just telephone towers) replacing the current "phone" approach one day. I can't find much support for this so far, but any links that make a positive case for it would be helpful. Let me know.

Unhackable Chrome OS - So Far

Still wearing the Cloak Of Unhackability, the linux based minimalist system has survived another round of organised hacker attacks.


Nikon's Lighter SLR, the D5200

I felt the need to get a lightweight but capable SLR style camera some time back, and am on my second try at present. My main camera is now a bit old, but still good, being a Nikon D80 with AF-S 18-200mm !:3.5 - 5.6 G ED lens. Having something a bit lighter for everyday work for me ended up being the Fuji HS-20EXR, now also superceded but still good. Lots of megapixels, max. aperture 2.8, long range zoom 24-700 equivalent, but lightweight, CMOS sensor - and cost for that or the later HS30 is peanuts.

Nikon's D5200 might fill the role for some, and you can read the Cnet review here. But at $700 body only, it's not a cheap prospect by the time you add a lens. And the sort of zoom lens you add to this body isn't going to be that lightweight. But, to each his own.


Copyright for Photographers Explained

The people at CNET have an article on this. Being a keen amateur myself, it's reassuring to know that my photos have automatic copyright in Australia. Overseas it's another matter, depending on the laws of the various countries.

Imagine my surprise a while ago when I found the above photo at the Radio Museum site. "That looks familiar", I thought. Sure enough it's a picture I took of my Grundig Radiogram out on the back patio. It's now watermarked by them, as you can see.

It's quite understandable that they grab things like that. I'm about to send off a shot of a Yamaha cassette deck to the Vintage Cassette site, as they don't have the KX-500 yet!

There's are categories of photo that I would not be so understanding about. Things with artistic value should be at least acknowledged with the photographer's name, and if it's a commercial use, paid for.


Quantum Computing - Diamonds Are The Revver

We've heard about computing continually doubling its capacity, but soon reaching the limits of current materials to miniaturise any further. To make the leap into hyper-computing, scientists are now theorising about the use of nitrogen atoms embedded in a maufactured diamond stratum. Read on!


The End Of The Printing Era

It's a long time since Marshall McLuhan's book, and a long time since we started to hear of the "paperless office". But the progress has been great, and Tech News World feels ready to proclaim that the end is near for printing.


Little Retro Cameras Breed!

Fuji are not going to stop producing cute little "rangefinder" style cameras. The latest models have super-fast auto focus and some nice gadgetry in the viewfinders.

Bigpond Went Down Plughole!

Apologies for lack of new material on the site for some days now!

Having the Bigpond cable modem drop dead after an electrical storm one night last week quickly exposed our dependence on the daily and continuing access to the net. False confidence had led the wife to chuck out those old things called phone books.

By the next day I was struggling to re-charge my SIM card in the iPad to get it back onto 3G service, but trying to do that via the Samsung Galaxy Ace's 3G (Optus/Virgin) wasn't quite cutting it.

Telstar Bigpond phone backup suggested a trip to the Telstra shop would get me a new modem in quick time, although they favoured sending one out in 3-5 days.

The trip to the Castle Towers shop revealed that no, they don't have cable modems, just ADSL ones. More phoning around revealed this to be the case everywhere. It's ok to get one in the mail, for some obscure reason, but not from a shop!

While waiting for the new modem to arrive I recharged the iPad SIM, and bought a second one from them to put into the wife's iPad. That at least kept us in a basic capability at a cost of $60.

Luckily the new modem did arrive in the minimum time of two days, so I was able to get it up and running by day 3. So two days of iPad 3G roaming had effectively cost $60, but the new modem was only $80 including delivery, or so I'm told. Every time you make a change to your Telstra Bigpond package it can require six months worth of follow up phone calls (one each time you get an extravagant monthly bill) while their labyrinthine accounts processes undergoes various landslips, back and fills, overcharge and correction, then subsides gradually to the regular monthly amount you were promised in the first instance.

An old Sonos ZP100 has also bitten the dust by the way it's now failing to maintain contact, dropping out in a matter of minutes each time I do CPR on it. That's the one I used to enliven the old Grundig radiogram. Oh, well, you win some, you lose some.

UPDATE: big thanks to Sonos Support, namely Chris Haj at Playback Systems. He helped get around the firewall issues that emerged with the new modem, which stopped me accessing my own library but allowed internet sources to continue. It's fantastic to see a product so well supported - the best I've seen to date. Chris really knows his stuff.


Oldest Computer - Dekatron!

Engadget has a small piece on the 60 year old Dekatron computer, one of those legendary mainframes that took up a whole room and a haystack sized pile of valves!


Prepare to Surface!

The rush of new devices hitting the market from Apple, Google and Microsoft, to name a few, is bewildering, as are the many claims for what these things can do to enhance our lives. Engadget reports in a long editorial that there are some rumblings at Apple and that some people are departing. The pressure is on to remain ahead of the pack, but the well of invention and innovation isn't always full, and the task of staying ahead of so many determined competitors is huge.

Here's my perspective, from a more sedate - some might say ageing - point of view. Mobile phones started out as revolutionary devices, went through a stage of being a one-upmanship status thing, then became dead common. As Paul Theroux noted in "Ghost Train To The Eastern Star", his revisitation of the great train journey across from Europe to Asia, even the rickshaw wallahs have mobiles now.

Making phones smarter lifted the game to a new level, but it was essentially still a one-upmanship thing as far as many of us were concerned. Tradies and people always on the go may have found them a boon, but deskbound workers have all the communication they need right there. I could never see myself enjoying reading anything on a phone, although I do fiddle with it now if I have to cool my heels anywhere for more than a few minutes.

The iPad fulfilled the promise of easy, portable web browsing, with much better battery life than laptops, notebooks, netbooks, whatever. But as a productivity tool, it lacked the guts of those others. I still curse it every day when I try to type on it, hitting the row of letters above the space bar all the time and having to backtrack and correct it. Doing a cut and paste gives me the horrors, and jumping in and out of various tabs is fraught with danger.

Enter the Microsoft Surface. Seven minute guided tour here. Easily attachable-detachable keyboards, basic office software included, slot for additional memory card, ability to manage multi-window screen, good image quality even if not full "retina" standard - I'm still on original iPad, so not super fussed about that. It looks good.

I was always interested but put off buying a notebook because of the battery life issue. That's it. Apart from that, no problem. But until the iPad came along and shook up the scene, they didn't appear to be getting to grips with that. If I'm traveling, and the thing's going to bomb after four hours, forget it. Promises of longer battery life were often disproved by reviewers. So then the Ultrabook movement was to fix that, as well as bulk. But initial costings were astronomical, so one loses interest, put it off until later.

Surface stands ready to take the mass market that Ultrabooks came too late to grab. Not for geeks who want the most powerful processors, but for average, reasonably up-to-date users. Like me. It'll be my next tech purchase unless something bad comes out of the woodwork to derail the plan.

While on the subject of reality checks, the upgrade to Windows 8 offered to anyone with earlier stuff, like my XP, for a small fee, is a breath of fresh air. I've always said that there are two ways to get rich - overcharge like crazy, or sell huge quantities. Microsoft for a while did both, which is why Gates ended up so gargantuously rich. But that's not the way things are in the tech world any more.


Don't Come The Wrong Prong With Me!

Apple's new Lightning Connector is bound to cause problems for a while, until all the accessory manufacturers have been certified and brought up to speed on the construction of it. Apple is controlling this process and having a "tech summit" (aka license fee summit? see update) on the subject for manufacturers to be briefed on all the aspects of the new connection. Standards are wonderful until they change, then everyone gets snarly for a while. But let's look at the good and the bad sides of this development.

The mega-bad is that all those devices sold for years and still being produced which use the 30-pin connector are obsolescent - that is to say they'll keep working with the previous models, but from now on every time you buy a new iPhone, iPad or iTouch, you'll have a new connection that doesn't fit the docks you encounter at home, at work, in your car, or at friends' places. Sticking an adaptor on the new device is not going to work, as it will make the connection too unstable and increase the likelihood of breaking the 30-pin prong - a bit prone to damage anyway, especially when leverage increases, cracking the base it sits on.

There's no argument that the new Lightning will be better, not just because it's smaller. It can also go in upside down, so avoids another damage scenario. And here's another thing: the need to actually connect your device is becoming less over time. AirPlay and Bluetooth require no wired connection, and at home your music collection should by now be available via local networking rather than docking.

And here's another thing: the other end of that new cable will still have a common USB plug on it, so connecting to various components is still no problemo - CD players and surround receivers, many of the smaller sound systems and one-piece cheapies have USB inputs now, and have had them for a while.

We'll see a gradual change to new docks and self-powered speaker systems, and all those assorted stereos will have to adapt, but for most of us who don't replace our things that quickly we'll just keep on using the existing ones and then move into the new ones a bit at a time. It'll be annoying for a while that they've changed the standard connection, but I'm sure we'll get over it eventually. Just like the changes from SVHS to Component and on to HDMI. In the meantime, retail staff will no doubt be hearing all about it form disgruntled customers!

The people you really do have to sympathise with are those that bought a "new iPad" in the last six months and just had it bumped by the 4th gen iPad!

UPDATE: Apple Store adaptors for HDMI and VGA at $49 each, but get this: no "generics" at this stage as there needs to be a code entered into a compliance chip inside each one! I thought Hollywood was the tops for control-freakism, but this is out there.


The Tiny "Go Pro Hero3" HD camera!

OK, this is awesome. A full HD video camera that's about the size of two matchboxes, has a remote that is nearly as big but enables you to control up to 50 of these mini-marvels. Lots of info at the link, and footage shot on it as well.

9 Gigapixel Photo Of Milky Way

That's the sky, not the candy bar of the same name! This picture, if printed at full resolution, would be a 9 x 7 metre print!


"Big Gadget" Has Troubles

Events over time can bring even a big, successful company undone. What once seemed unassailable enterprises, such as IBM, can fade into the background if not disappear altogether. The list of companies for whom things are not running as smoothly as we once thought has grown recently, as Rob Enderle points out in his latest article at Tech News World.

It's fascinating that he regards Microsoft as being potentially on the way back, if they play their cards right. He outlines the once warm relations between Apple and Google that have deteriorated into something more like mutually assured destruction. Samsung and Apple have a continuous cage match in the courts as they try to win a patent case or get the other excluded from a part of the world market for one or more of their smart products.

This is despite the incestuous relationships many big players have with one another, be it in the production of specialised chipsets for phones or panels for their TVs. Meanwhile, Microsoft is gearing up to integrate their approach across platforms and present a fresh, coherent ecosystem.

Sony once shared a production plant with Samsung, then switched to Sharp. Sharp is at present also engaged in restructuring, with large job losses mooted, and flat panel TV production is one of the areas they lose money on. Panasonic and Sony have also been struggling with loss-making in that area, while Nokia, once a market leader, is battling back from a dip in its share of the phone market, from which Blackberry, also once a buzz brand, has all but disappeared.

Enderle also points to a fight Apple seems to have picked with the tetchy EU over phone sockets, which the EU wants standardized.


"You see, the EU wanted all makers to have the same socket. Apple was given a two-year period to make the transition and signed an agreement that lasted for two years in order to get there. It does have a clause allowing a dongle, which is what Apple has released in Europe.

However, this agreement and this transition period expire at the end of December 2012, and Apple is acting like it just doesn't understand the goal, even though every other phone maker made the switch months ago.

Microsoft pulled a very similar prank back in 2008, and it got hit with a recurring $1.3B, as in billion, fine. Given this dongle prank was done to ensure royalty revenue to Apple -- and the EU regulators know this (they really aren't idiots) -- I'm expecting a legendary fine to result sometime next year."


While Apple certainly stole a march on everyone with the iPad, and it's been quite a long march for the others to catch up on, the next round is to be the 7"/17.5cm size tablets. At first Apple's Jobs said this wasn't a goer, but now that there are at least three or four strong players angling for the market segment, it's about to hot up, with Apple rumoured to join in. Amazon's Kindle Fire locks into their merchandising and is optimised for media.

The technology market is a never-ending story. Winners and losers, profits and losses, successful riding of trends and spectacular failures are all part and parcel of this greatest show on earth.

Media Player Blues

A friend from the bush sent me some music files to check out. They were in AIFF form on DVD-R discs, so one would assume that Windows Media could cope, since they list AIFF as one of their playable formats. No go.

OK, I thought, Media Monkey plays just about anything, so let's give that a try. Open up Media Monkey, which has always been good, nice interface, no fuss, plays lots of things - only to be offered an update. Download the update to be confronted by a program that doesn't appear to want to actually do anything, play anything, doesn't look like the good old version, looks rubbish and is complete rubbish. Uninstall.

iTunes will play the files one at a time, but doesn't appear interested in importing the whole disc, but will do so one file at time.

Hmmm. Used to have VLC. Let's give that another try. Download that, and even click the boxes which say "keep me informed of updates". Norton immediately has a spasm and says "malware blocked", and "someone is attempting to change your home page".

I now have a stupid extra toolbar that I can't get rid of, and it keeps telling me that Chrome shut down incorrectly last time and do I want to restore that session - this is still happening after saying "no" many times, and even rebooting.

But back to the chase. VLC actually plays the disc with the sort of ease I expected both Windows and Media Monkey, and Itunes, to do. What a bloody debacle. The "media monkey" has misbehaved and screwed the pooch completely - why would I now fork out $24.95 for their Gold Version after that non-functioning useless update? It might not work at all. They also have a so-called "free Gold" version that seems to want you to buy stuff from sponsored merchants in order to enjoy the free bit. I have enough things pestering me without adding more.

The big lesson from all this dicking around is that the ease of use I now have with a combination of Spotify and Sonos makes all that irrelevant. If the artist/album is on Spotify I can access it. And guess what? It's a guy I'd never heard of, but all his stuff is on Spotify. I can listen to any of his albums in any of four zones, any time. "Media players" have had their day. Discs are a threatened species.

The final proof is that even my technically-challenged missus has made friends with Spotify/Sonos instantly, without even writing herself little notes the way she had to for the PVR!

Internet Explorer Warning

I'd stopped using IE some time back because its screen presentation went funny - the graphics were suddenly just those blueboxes on a white background you get when a site isn't working properly, but it's probably the IE since Chrome worked fine. I tried re-installing. Same result.

Now that there's pretty full-on warning out there against using IE until they fix up the weakness that's found to be in a number of versions, Chrome looks even better. Not that it's wonderful, it just works fairly consistently, except for that damned bar that's appeared telling me that it didn't shut down properly last time - and that was days ago!

Cloudy With A Chance of Bullshit

It was a great pleasure to read something at Engadget that wasn't about the latest update to the last update of a smart phone operating system. I got quite excited about the possibilities of the new cloud service that was going to be better than ever. That was until reality bit, again. Or was it Unreality. You be the judge.

Amazon's updated Cloud service might be just wonderful, but it raises a question about the whole "cloud" thing. They say that whatever you buy in MP3 form will be stored there, and playable from "anywhere". Great, but for one thing … I can't buy an MP3 from my home in Australia - I just tried to buy the MP3 album Centre Stage by Tommy Emmanuel, and got this message:

We are sorry... We could not process your order. The sale of MP3 Downloads is currently available only to US customers located in the United States.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.

OK. So a USA customer can buy an Australian artist's album, have it included in "da cloud" and enjoy it anywhere in the world, including Australia, but I can't buy an MP3 download for love or money here in Australia.

What the hell is going on? This is a totally ridiculous situation and nobody seems to care. Until that's sorted, they can take their cloud and blow it out their arse.

Commodore 64 Remembered 30 Years On

This amazing piece of kit was released 30 years ago, in August 1982. For many of us oldies it was the first computer we owned and played with at home as opposed to the PCs we were getting our hands on at work - which were not too exciting in those days anyway!

Ars Technica has a nice retrospective on the venerable 64, including some video of the Giana Sisters game, which my kids got a lot of fun from back then. I might have to get my old one out of storage and see if it still works!

7" Google Tablet A Winner

Many have tried, and success has been limited. But in addition to rumoured Apple offering, this one from Google (with Asus innards) gets a big thumbs up from Ars Technica.

What's In The Lost Jobs Interview

A recording turned up that had been thought entirely lost, done with Jobs in 1995. It has been remastered and turned into a documentary, but of course everyone is curious to know what it covers. Ars Technica have a summary here.

Gigapixel Camera

Yes, you'd guess right that this thing has been built for military surveillance, but they say it should be miniaturised and trickle down to commercial markets in a few years.

My Smartphone Odyssey

As you may know, I've been a slow adopter of the smartphone for a variety of reasons, main one being it just didn't fit my daily routines and needs. And it seemed that the monthly charges were high while the data allowance was low. But I now have on trial, and I mean that literally. I'm going to live with it for a while and see if it drives me mad or is actually useful.

The first thing that's going to drive me mad is the smallness. Then the inadvertent touching of a hyperlink when all you wanted to do was zoom the screen to enable something to be read or typed. Next, it's entry blocks that require you to type in stuff but after having done that you find there's no "go" or "enter" button on that screen, and the carriage return doesn't do it either, so you end up bombing out of it.

But I have to, as a techno-busybody, get with the program late rather than never. Particularly as they are threatening to cut out landlines for the greater good of the NBN. The NBN that's not coming to a suburb near me for some time, it appears.

Anyway, Virgin have this offer on where my own Galaxy Ace phone can be connected with a healthy allowance of calls and data per month for $19 ($450 calls/text plus 2.25GB data per month, 29 with phone or $19 BYO). I'm waiting to see what the fine print is on that one. I don't make a lot of calls, and the internet access is something I have to grow into. The other beauty of this plan is that there's no contract term, so it can be "terminated" if it doesn't work out or they step over a line with the hidden charges.

The great thing about the iPad is that I can read on it and scale the text up a bit to make that even easier. The typing is ok, not great. But I'm not going to carry an iPad around with me everywhere. With the phone it's damned hard to read, and the typing, while being way better than the old flip-phone key thing, is still a bit tricky. My first attempt to download the Sonos app (Android version) failed completely, but just got that going - so that's useful.

The ability to access various services while out and about, such as maps, remains to be tested. Being able to log in to my email will be something, and the camera is better than the old flip-phone camera by a long way. I've added 32GB memory for $20, and may even put some music in there. There's the usual FM radio, weather, google and so on. When I clicked on "Gallery" it went away and found all the photos I'd uploaded from Picasa!

This is not strictly a "home entertainment" subject apart from the Sonos app at this stage, but as phones are increasingly part of the remote control landscape it is going to become a useful tool in a number of ways. It was past time that I got around to giving myself some education prodding in this direction.

To be continued, or at least Updated periodically.

UPDATE: setting up Navigator! Yes, it works. But I'm still not actually using this new gadget much.

Tablets, Phones & TV

It apparently has come as a surprise to pollsters in the tech industry that people are much more likely to use their tablet to watch video than their phone! As a late adopter of the smartphone thing, I can vouch for this being one of the factors that made me buy an iPad long before I bought (and it's only just happening) a phone capable of doing those sorts of things.

"Tablet users were nearly three times more likely to watch video on their device, compared to smartphone users, and one in every 10 viewed video content on their tablets almost daily, the study found." There's no doubt that even "print content" is easier to consume on a tablet than on a phone. I don't honestly expect to be reading the news bulletins on my phone, but you never know. It may just be text messages and emails. As a minimalist phone user I have stayed away from the smartphone phenomenon to date, for practical reasons.

What "practical reasons?" I hear you ask. Stick-in-the-mud-luddite, perhaps? Not really, as evidenced by my interest in lots of technologies. It just hasn't made sense to spend money on something that has limited utility for me personally. I tend to use the phone purely as a phone, and not having a huge social group makes it pretty minimal as an adjunct to my life. Add to that the fact that phones work poorly if at all in the building I work in, and when I'm at home I have this desktop computer plus an iPad to use, as well as landline phones scattered around the house. So, you've got some picture of my (at least in part) miserly situation. But all that's going to change.

The writing is on the wall for fixed line phones (has been for some time), and my contract with Telstra for internet and landlines runs out in September. A new package of internet and smartphone will replace it, and the landline will have to go. Under the NBN plan, the copper network is to be scrapped, so it has a limited future. Mobility is where it's at, and there's a good chance I'll need to be more in touch while on the move over the next few years.

AS for consuming TV shows on the iPad or phone, well, that would not usually happen if I'm at home, where larger screens are available. But when you're out and about, away on a trip, trapped waiting somewhere, yes, that could swing it. We'll see. I nearly forgot to mention the other side benefit of new phones: the cameras have evolved to the point where I can see a benefit in using one as a backup when I don't have one of my good cameras with me. A 5MP job should provide some semblance of a point & shoot quality camera.

Is Android A Stolen System?

Given the number of new angles that all the leading companies come up with, and the number of partly developed failures that litter the history of our technological age, it stands to reason that Timothy Lee is on the money in his assessment:

"Indeed, what made the iPhone such a great product was precisely that Apple drew together a number of innovations already developed separately—touchscreen phones, capacitive touchscreens, sophisticated multitouch user interfaces—and combined them in a product greater than the sum of its parts. This pattern of combining and refining of previous innovations is the rule, not the exception, in innovative industries. Android is simply the latest example of the pattern."

That whole article puts things into perspective. There are so many things that copmpanies A, B, or C do over time, and it's inevitable that company D might at some stage draw together the right threads to knit a new product. Patents are currency in this ongoing battle for supremacy, and Google's funds allow them to own lots, just like Apple.

The incredible advances in affordability that the standardisation on the PC allowed is salutary. Pity about the ripoff that had us all paying way too much for the software and created such incredible multi-billionaires that they are now spending the rest of their lives working out who to give it away to, what African health issue they'll donate to or what mansion to buy next.

But here we go again. Apple has been working for years on a way to avoid using Google's Maps. Why spend a fortune re-inventing the wheel? Is their map set going to be so much better? We'll see. But it looks like the old closed environment lives on for a while yet.

Enigma machine at Science Festival

People have had a chance to actually send a message on a WW2 German Enigma coding machine, which sends the scrambled message to be decoded at Bletchley Park.

Tape Still Used In Computing

A report that tape will be used as storage for a supercomputer installation raised eyebrows. Interesting to note that reel to reel audio tape machines have been making a bit of a comeback at HiFi Shows in the last couple of years. I still have one myself!

Give Up The Internet?

See article on this guy who's going to try and do without for a year, even though he's a tech writer!

Undead PC

According to Rob Enderle the PC's death has been exaggerated - it isn't dead or even dying, just changing shape over time.

Ubuntu: It's On The Attack - but doesn't charge

No, not a tribe of rampaging natives like the Zulu, but an open-source operating system that can breathe new life into your old computer, or even run on some recent phones. Read this article from BBC Technology for the full picture.

TETHR Connects From Anywhere On Earth

Getting internet access and communications up and running no matter where you are and regardless of local connection conditions is a tall order. This article from BBC Future tells how it all came about with the efforts of a very clever and persistent guy. The gear is now small enough to carry anywhere.

How Does Google Do It Fast?

Have you wondered how Google searches the entire web and gets back to you in half a second? Here's the quick 7:45 explanation.

Google Chrome OS - Now With Aura

Google must be throwing some dollars at this! Ars Technica have a long review of the Aura interface that's trying to make Chrome OS more attractive.

CSIRO's Wireless Patent Payoff

With all the patent flak flying around between Apple and Samsung (to name just two) it'd be easy to miss this story involving our own CSIRO. They've had quite a bit of success enforcing a patent they have concerning making wireless work properly - something we all now take for granted.

But according to this story from Ars Technica, some are a bit mystified as to how our boffins and their smart US patent lawyers have scored (to date) $430m in settlements for what look like old techniques. Never mind, it's not what you've got it's how you use it, and in the big bad world of consumer electronics settling out of court makes sense!

iPhoto App

For $5 why not? Looks like iPhoto offers a lot of creative or correctional tools for photographers on the go - or should I say "image makers"? Check it out here.

The First Computer

Google have posted a short 8 minute film on YouTube about Colossus, the WW2 computer that did great work breaking codes.

How A/V Took Over Computers

I'm trying to remember what year it was that those in the know started saying that the hifi and home theatre business would be parasitized by the home computer industry. At first we weren't sure what they meant, but as computers went firstly into better games, then full motion video as well as music, it started to make sense. Computers stopped being simply business tools and became all things to all people.

Ultimately there was only so much you could do with a desktop computer. The screens got a bit bigger, and small powered satellite & subwoofer speaker systems could be added. But for a memorable experience the full-sized surround sound amplifier and speakers, together with a projector or a really large flat screen are where you have to go. What the "computer" ends up being is the source.

We now live in a world where powerful computing chips are everywhere: in phones, game consoles, and also in all our A/V gear. What has happened is like genetic engineering, with the computer genes being spliced into all manner of consumer durables. This has enabled a whole range of improvements, such as bringing pictures and sound up to High Definition level, and embedding smart EQ (room analysis and correction) in surround receivers and even subwoofers. But now it's the networking capability that is leading to the next big thing. Training the consumer to use their computer hard drive or Network Attached Storage (NAS) drive as their library of music and video was step one. Step two was using online libraries. Step three is freely browsing the web via your "TV", whatever that may be. That is where we are up to now, and the NBN will deliver the speeds which make it all work. Only licensing issues will slow down the progress towards an environment where everything is available all the time.

Then all we need is the time to enjoy it. So, did computers take over the A/V industry, or has the insidous A/V done the reverse? So much of what we see touted in phones, tablets and computers these days relates not to dull things like spreadsheets or word processing, but to things which entertain. In summary, perhaps it's been a marriage of convenience, where the computing genes made the A/V smarter, but the A/V genes made computers far more sexy!

And it hasn't just been about the consumers of entertainment. The progress in smart stuff has, as Rob Enderle outlines here, made production so cheap that any tech savvy producer can make games or movies that are so lifelike they look ultra-expensive but are dirt cheap to do.

Tablets, Ultrabooks & Franken-gadgets!

Before I went out and bought an iPad, then found I had to buy another because the wife loved it so much, I really wanted to buy a notebook. But every time I read a review I see that the battery life ain't all it's cracked up to be, and I'd be driven mad by the short amount of time I could use the thing.

I'd still like to buy one, as the iPad's keyboard now drives me half-mad and ensures way too many typos. I spend twice as much time getting a corrected paragraph together as I do on a regular keyboard. Yes, I know I could get one of those Bluetooth keyboards, and maybe I will.

The whole this-way-or-that-way thing is apparently creating confusion in the minds of all the manufacturers, who fronted up to CES Las Vegas with what Engadget describes as hybrids and franken-gadgets. They have hybrids of tablets and notebooks, phones and tablets, all sorts of stuff in prototype form - probably using CES as market research.

Ultrabooks may be the way ahead, and there are plenty of those in the offing. As long as the prices are not obviously in la-la land, that's where I might end up reconciling my own conflicts. I don't mind having to recharge the thing each night, but rebel at the idea of having to do so by lunchtime - I have other urgent food and drink recharging to do then, but it takes very little time compared to a battery recharge, which usually takes hours.

Maybe the Lenovo Yoga will win me ova! It has the right form factor and will be Windows 8. May not cost much more than a top of the line iPad either. More about it here.

Anyway, it appears CES has had its biggest year ever, with new records being set for attendance and space used by exhibitors. Next year's CES is already scheduled for January 8-11, 2013.

Engadget have a handy hub for repeats of their live coverage of this year's show.

UPDATE: see review of Asus Transformer Prime. Looks like a pretty good hybrid, and not badly priced as well!

The Nokia 808 41 Meg Camera-Phone

This is in the news at the moment because it's the most powerful (in megapixel terms) camera phone ever. That's great, but as I've said before, there are only a certain number of megapixels you need to get good high definition pictures for everyday use, even for quite large - up to poster size - prints. If you're going beyond amateur, then a real camera is the obvious choice. Why, you may ask. Isn't 41 megs pretty damn good?

The question this or any other little point-and-shoot camera raises is how you can possibly get lens characteristics that normally require at east a fist-sized assembly of ground glass elements in to a tiny device. Answer: you can't. Most of the examples of the whizz-bang hi-res shots I've seen produced on this device have had poor depth of field. Unless you have proper control over aperture and speed you'll get hit-and-miss results.

To get even a fixed focal length lens to have good performance you need a bigger piece of gear than will fit into any phone. To get a good range of zoom requires a longer barrel than will fit into most point & shoot cameras. Bottom line is that for less than the cost of this Symbian phone, you can buy a very good camera. Will it have 41 Megapixels? No, buit you do not need them - it's a distraction.

Windows 8 Gave Me A Start - Not!

We've seen so many iterations of Windows, and over its lifetime it has had to go on adapting to what's possible as well as what's practical. Gone are the days when they had to give you a tutorial on how to use the mouse, and with the advent of laptops the trackpad introduced new interface moves. Now it's time for Windows to adapt to the brave new world of screen swipes as per tablet and smart phone usage.

With Windows 8 they are rumoured do away with the Start button altogether, change the presentation to a more frameless look, although some applications will still look familiar. Ars Technica has a detailed article on how the new screens and commands will work.

Prepaid SIM Sins

I've enjoyed having an iPad, and my wife loved it so much I had to get a second one! We use them mainly at home but get 3G coverage when away from home for a week or more. Of course you have to buy a month's worth of SIM recharge at a time, but that's no problem - what I think is a problem is the time limit regardless of how much download you use. If I've paid for 3GB I should get to use it.

Then the next outrageous thing is if you haven't used the SIM for 6 months it's killed off!

So just when you need a quick recharge for the Christmas/New Year break and you're off up the coast for a week, guess what? Your SIM is dead, so you have to go to the Telstra store and buy a new SIM.

I did that, but on the day they had trouble activating it. Telstra's computer system seemed unco-operative. "Go home and we'll phone you when it's fixed". Still no result the following day, and the day after that. In fact no result until after the New Year long weekend, when another visit to the store resulted in the diagnosis: the technical cell at Telstra had activated to large SIM, not the micro SIM for the iPad.

So the trip away is now over, and the $32 paid for a new SIM is really just wasted. From now on I have to remember to do a recharge of at least the minimum amount every 5 months just to keep the SIM alive, whether I need it for that month or not.

This whole concept of prepaid time limitations is on the nose, and the telecoms are generating bad vibes by being so strict and then, to make it worse, incompetent when you do a renewal. The subject of traps for the unwary in phone-data usage is too large to go into in anything shorter than a Senate Committee Report, so I'll leave it at that.

Nikon D4 Pro Body Launched

Some five years after the D3, Nikon have started pre-release showings of the new D4 Professional Digital SLR body, due out soon at $US6000. Engadget has a brief look here.

Android 4.0 Review

A rundown on this new release by Ars Technica: a closer look at the interface and operating system. "This major new version of Android includes a redesigned user interface that promises a uniform experience across tablet and smartphone form factors, and it delivers new features and a wide range of improvements across the core application stack."

Apple's 2012 Program of Releases

What are they likely to release in 2012? New iPhone, iPad, iMac, - but what about TV? Tech News World has a list of most likely candidates for us to run through.

Leica rehashes Panasonic's Lumix Fz150

From camera to chimera. Leica have used the Panasonic as a base for their own version, adding their lens and other bits to create (hopefully) something which is compact, very useful, and cheaper than some of the more "iconic" Leica cameras.

This is essentially a similar style of camera to the one I bought earlier this year in the form of a Fuji HS20EXR, being a smaller SLR-form but with a very long range zoom lens. As they say in their press release, it's a great solution for the serious amateur looking for a do-anything camera, easy to cart around. But: there's still nothing to beat looking directly through the lens on my Nikon SLR, short of an even bigger camera!

Read more at Engadget.

Patents: Cupidity and Stupidity

The spate of patent infringement cases we have seen recently between Samsung and Apple, Apple and Motorola (also HTC and Ipcom)serve to illustrate how jealously they all guard their inventions and techniques, but at the same time how similar they all are in any event, and the cases can go one way or the other depending on how the court feels on the day, or the day of the next appeal. Each may feel that they have made something special and made it first, and that some other company's utilization of a concept is evidence of stealing, but it isn't always correct or enforceable. Crick and Watson weren't the only ones closing in on the molecular structure of DNA, but they crossed the finishing line first, just a bit ahead of the others, so they got the recognition, the fame, the Nobel Prize.

There have been some dumb attempts (successful or not) to say that words like Lifestyle are a trademark, or that Absolute can't be used as a brand name even if it is only part of the name. Absolute Beach swimwear were beaten up by Absolut Vodka for trying that one on.

The fighting over whether patents should be allowed on human genes once again tests our common sense, and I'm surprised it is even contemplated. But it's going to the US Supreme Court, so hopefully common sense and a good rule of law will prevail. It's one thing to patent a therapeutic process which involves genes, but to allow anyone to patent a human gene is an abuse of the system, and it should be outlawed in every jurisdiction. The same for any other part of nature. Unless you've bred some special plant or animal, forget it.

The fisticuffs over phones and tablets is really just more wasted effort. The real advantage comes from having better apps, functions, integration and backup, not whether your phone brand has a touch screen and a certain look.

More at Ars Technica: Is Apple Using Patents To Hurt Open Standards?

The Gravity Of Business Reorders The Internet

In the beginning there was the word, expressed in binary code, which sprayed out like an exploding supernova which became the internet. And we gradually decided it was good, so good that everyone wanted a piece of it. For a while the molecules floated around then started to coalesce into larger and larger sites, administered by bigger and more profitable companies. We are now seeing the formation of planets, and for some this is not a good look. To them they can look like the Death Star!

The redesign of YouTube's look and structure is drawing flack from all sides, and is in danger of undermining the users' confidence in the site. The marvelous thing about YouTube is that you search for anything without being directed or channeled except in so far as clips of similar material are thrown up as a sidebar, and if you're lucky you find pages and pages of stuff to explore. That is helpful, but too much control over what is suggested could be problematic if it can't be bypassed. So far this is not the case, as a general search still works.

However, the suspension of Lady Gaga's entire channel, if true as reported, bespeaks an over-reaction and a censorship issue of grand-dame proportions. The whole channel concept might fall on its butt if this continues.

Amazon started out as a book and CD store but now covers all sorts of products, right through to high-value home electronics. Ebay, looking to grow, is taking a larger percentage commission on our sales and then another chomp on the way through Paypal. As in most avenues of business, the little guy is not worth much and generates work. Get with the bigger guys is what comes next.

Are you getting the feeling that the halcyon days of a free-and-easy internet are drawing to an end, and the powerful are starting to exert control in order to make it pay, or pay more as the case may be? That's to be expected, but there'll be much screaming as the net closes on the minnows, so to speak.

Is This Phone/Camera Thing Getting Silly?

I know that the camera function of phones has improved out of sight, and have even considered getting a new phone just for that! But here we have an attachment for your Phone 4s that adds three different lenses on a rotating structure. This is defeating the slim phone idea, regardless of what it does for the inbuilt phone-cam. What next? Add a phone function to your camera perhaps.

The Steve Jobs Legacy

Steve's biographer said in a TV interview yesterday that he was more of a Howard Hughes than a Thomas Edison. I still think there was a bit of Edison in there, but the Hughes talent for being across so many things at once was certainly present. All three of them had involvement in entertainment innovations, and all had unquestioned technical strengths. All had to manage teams of talented people.

It seems appropriate to stop and consider the benefits of modern technology while we remember the outstanding record of achievement of Steve Jobs. I'm sure others will devote more than enough column inches to his stellar trajectory since he and Wozniak, almost on their own, came up with a personal computer that left the big players gasping.

I was in the Department of Defence when news came through in about 1983 that they had an Apple Lisa in Building A - and it had a mouse! Before long I was sitting in front of the Lisa moving financial figures around in a highlight, copy & paste fashion hitherto unseen in departmental number crunching. But it was still work, and I have to say that tweaking Five Year Defence Program dollar figures will never have the thrill of the many truly creative things you can do with computers. An iPod is infinitely more alluring.

The iPhone and other variations on the smartphone idea have both a work and a social aspect to them. Staying in touch and being able to see and respond to emails are work oriented benefits. Being able to browse the web from anywhere via 3G/4G has both work and personal benefits. But the big payoff is simply improved communication between individuals, whether by voice, email or video conferencing - "facetime". You can now talk to and see people around the world via skype, if you want to, for no charge.

While our cities have become more crowded, we actually interact less with others. We are actually more isolated. Apart from our limited social groups at work, or close friends and relatives, we tend to have less face to face interaction than we had in the 20th century.

Judging by the obsessive pursuit of phone gadgetry and the incredible amount of web space devoted to these mini marvels on sites such as Engadget, they have become central to many people's identity. If you're not interacting through these devices on a daily basis, you might as well not exist. Some want to be at the forefront of it all, to be the go-to guy, the one who knows everything. Others get into it to be part of the group, or just so they don't appear too ignorant, too luddite when it comes to trendy stuff.

Personal computers have been a madly competitive field to be involved in. They have gone from being a luxury and not that great in the 1980s to being cheap and amazing now. Whether you're a photographer, musician, writer, or an accountant, the production possibilities have been enhanced to a degree unimagineable back when that Lisa appeared. They offer everything from fun and games to serious business pursuits and artistic endeavours. The competition along the way meant that everyone from the chip makers to the monitor designers strove to give us more, faster, cuter products. I've seriously considered buying an iMac just for the neatness of it, but my desk is a mess anyway! It would look out of place.

I love my iPad (first version) because it allows me to keep in touch with news and current affairs wherever I am, and the text can be scaled up for easier reading. I couldn't see myself doing that on an iPhone, but as soon as I saw the iPad prove itself to be really useful in so many ways, I got one. Its uses are many, not least as a remote control device for Sonos and all sorts of A/V gear - in fact whole of house, or "smarthome" applications.

Jobs is recognized as a deal maker, and perhaps the best thing he did was to show the record companies that a pay-per-track sales model could work. I have to say I was amazed at how long it took the companies to see that their future was just that. All they had to do was make it easy for us to buy the tracks we want rather than engage in unsafe downloading behaviours! Apple's iTunes management system was a vital ingredient in the mix. That's what's going to sort the good from the also-ran in the online library game. The user experience has to be easy, the presentation nice, the list of music to your liking.

It's easy to be super salesman when your product is fantastic. Being as super when bringing bad news is harder, but we should heed Steve's words about death, too. I know people who'd like to live forever, since they are so fascinated by every new thing that comes along. We are now told that the first person to live beyond 150 years may have been born already, and that the limit will be pushed out further over the next twenty years. I'm not at all sure that this is a good thing. You know what they say about psychopaths getting to the top of corporations. I'd say they'll be first in the queue for longer lasting genes.

But the truly miraculous is something we can all see every day: nature as it is. We should enjoy it, and wonder at it, stop to smell the roses, and be content that for everything there is a season. There are already more shows and movies available than we can possibly take in, and there is a huge legacy of recorded music of all sorts to be explored.

For those of us who aren't going to live forever, the choices we make about what to watch, read and listen to are important if we are not to waste what time we have. The ready availability of reviews of products, shows, books and music on the web is a great help. I hope to spend more time on this site in the coming years making a contribution to that. At the same time, I'm not wanting to live forever just to catch up with them all.

For now, goodbye Steve - we didn't know you personally, but we have had quite a few aspects of our life enriched by your efforts. Thanks for that, and for the reminder that, as the Chinese say, if the old don't go, the new can't come.

UPDATE: Over at Ars Technica their contributors are all remembering their first encounters with Apple computers!

Will Ultrabooks Compete With MacBook Air?

The success of Apple in bringing to the market the super-slim MacBook Air has left other manufacturers wallowing in a swamp of too many models, features that don't quite add up to a convincing alternative, and lack of the concerted approach to manufacturing that allows price-points to be hit.

Ars Technica's Feature Story covers Intel's challenge to the OEM PC manufacturers to bring to market "Ultrabooks", super-slim Windows-based notebooks that have a chance to take the competition up to Apple. It makes fascinating reading, as it addresses the confusion one faces when trying to assess the offerings of all these companies, and then the manufacturing strategies required to produce the goods at the right price.

20 Years of Linux

Ars Technica featured story about the evolution and now longevity of the Linux operating system.

Cloudy Alternatives

"Apple's new iCloud service offers some unique and compelling features, some of which can be replicated by other offerings. Google's rich assortment of Web services offers many of the same capabilities, but both Apple and Google tailor their services to work best with their own product ecosystems.

Users who don't want to be locked into a single platform or a single vendor can scrape together a fairly robust platform-agnostic syncing stack by using the right combination of services from Google, Apple, and third-party providers."

Ars Technica tell you how to do it!

How Many Megapixels Do You Need?

At last someone has written a debunking article on all those claims by camera manufacturers that they have so many megapixels. It became like the hifi world where mugs run around endlessly saying how many watts their speakers are, or worse, asking poor bemused sales people "how many watts do these speakers put out?" Well, none, actually!

So, many thanks to Chris Foresman at Ars Technica for this excellent piece. The importance of lense and sensor quality, be they CCD or CMOS, usually takes a back seat when the ads are being written. I've been asked by workmates every time they spy me with one of my cameras "how many megapixels?", so it works.

The considered answer from professionals is that most people, even serious amateurs through to quite a few pros, don't need more than 12MP. I have taken plenty of good shots on less than that and had them blown up to large prints without mishap.

Has Apple Nobbled Competitors?

Rob Enderle has an interesting conspiracy theory concerning Apple's dominance in the marketplace. I couldn't possibly comment but it makes a good story.

My Cameras

I've been a Nikon SLR fan for quite a while, progressing from the old metal-body film cameras to the plastic-bodied electronic ones, then onwards to the D80 DSLR model I currently have. As a second camera I've tended to have a Fuji Finepix of some sort, and the S1000FD has just been replaced by the HS20 EXR.

The HS20 is a fantastic parcel of tricks wrapped around a very useful Fujinon zoom lens which goes from 24mm wide (in 35mm film equivalence) out to super telephoto equal to a 720mm lens! A new CMOS sensor delivers 16MB resolution, and the HS20 also doubles as a High-Definition video camera with up to 1920x1080 full HD res, and stereo sound recording. There's even a HDMI out!

Panorama shots have been made easier too - dial in the degrees (from 120) then pan around, and the camera stitches the shot together seamlessly. Magic! The body is larger then the little S1000FD, but smaller then the full-size Nikon. I'm just starting to play with it, more later.

More info on the model here.