Archive for the 'Technology' Category
Back in 2008 I wrote that DSLRs were starting to include video features and that these new cameras were set to be hugely popular with the movie-making crowd. Well, it turns out I was right. Indie film makers everywhere are making amazing films with DSLRs, and the professionals are starting to take notice. For example, the upcoming season finale of the Fox show House was shot entirely with a Canon 5DmkII. Yep, that’s right, a major television network used a DSLR camera to film one of their top shows. Pretty incredible considering video on digital cameras started off as more of a “gee-whiz” toy feature than a serious tool.
Last year I was watching this trend develop and watching my old gear collect dust, so I sold most everything and waited for the prices on the new generation of “hybrid” DSLRs to come down. In March I had waited long enough and finally got my brand new toy, a Panasonic DMC-GH1. While Canon’s 7D and T2i were appealing options and are very popular with film makers, I settled on the GH1 because its video is as just as good as any of the Canons, but it also has some very user-friendly features that the Canons are lacking, such as a tilt/swivel LCD and a viewfinder that works while recording videos. It also comes with a video-optimized lens that has silent autofocus and a stepless aperture, which can be very important features when trying to shoot video in the real world rather than on a set.
So far I’m really enjoying the camera. It’s so nice to be able to seamlessly switch between taking photos and shooting video, and I love the flexibility of the camera. The Micro Four Thirds mount means that it can use just about any lens ever made via an inexpensive lens mount adapter. My parents were nice enough to give me some old Canon FD lenses they had sitting in the closet, so I’ve been playing with those and getting some nice results.
The movie below was shot early one March morning in my backyard using the FD lenses as well as the kit lens. The shallow depth of field and fine detail rendered by these lenses makes for some darn nice video. I’m currently working on editing footage from my recent trip to Costa Rica, so stay tuned!No comments
I decided to spend some time fixing up Seansense this weekend. I’ve you’re into geeky WordPress website stuff like me, read on! If not, check out one of those other posts.
In addition to fixing broken links and general maintenance, I also thought it would be a good idea to make Seansense 100% iPhone and iPad compatible. Previously the site was a bit of a mess when viewed on an iPhone, with broken Flash video all over the place and formatting issues everywhere. I fixed all this by playing with CSS style sheets and HTML5 video. Keep reading after the break to learn more.No comments
Recently the stars aligned and my cell phone contract expired just as Apple unleashed its latest and greatest, the iPhone 3GS. The bump in features and memory was enough to finally push me over the edge and into iPhone ownership. One of the things that differentiates this model from the previous 3G is the new 3 megapixel camera with video recording capability. Maximum photo resolution is 2048 x 1536, while maximum video resolution is 640 x 480 (VGA). This thing is no HD camcorder or DSLR, but for a cell phone these aren’t bad specs.
It got me thinking… Given the best conditions, can a cell phone video camera and some basic editing with iMovie ’09 make a decent video? I took a stroll along the San Diego harbor this afternoon to find out. I’ll let you be the judge, but I’m pleased with the results.
The only hitch I ran into throughout this process was that I imported the videos via iPhoto, but for whatever reason iMovie didn’t list the movies in the “iPhoto Movies” area of the event library, so I had to reimport the clips. This seems like a weird hiccup for Apple, as media integration is usually their forte.
Overall the iPhone makes a great camera and camcorder when the lighting is good and you’ve left your fancy equipment at home. The hardest part was keeping the video stable, but fortunately iMovie ’09 includes an post-processing stabilization feature that actually worked quite well.
I’ve also put together a gallery of photos I took with the phone. Honestly would you guess these were taken with a cell phone if nobody told you? I’m quite impressed.
Below is some amazing footage of the US Airways 1549 crash and subsequent rescue effort.
As a private pilot and aerospace engineer, I have been captivated by this story. I know that when things go wrong in the air, everything usually goes much worse when the airplane reaches the ground. Aircraft need to be light. Their structures are only strong enough to resist the forces encountered during normal takeoffs, flights, and landings, plus a relatively small safety factor. Unlike automobiles, aircraft just aren’t designed to crash. Instead you could say that aircraft are designed to not crash. Every critical system on a commercial aircraft is present in duplicate, triplicate, or more. Extensive design and testing goes into making sure that if one or two things fail, the airplane keeps flying right along.
In the case of US Airways Flight 1549, the redundant system was the aircraft’s engines. If one engine goes out, the second engine has enough power to bring the aircraft safely back to the airport. Due to the high reliability (and costs) associated with modern turbofan engines, aircraft manufactures and the FAA have decided that two is enough. Even the 368 passenger, transcontinental Boeing 777 gets by with just two engines. The probability of them both failing simultaneously is extremely low. Turbofan engines can suck up all kinds of junk and keep running. In fact, manufactures do a lot of testing to make sure this is the case:
However, engines have their limits, and those limits were exceeded on Flight 1549, probably by a flock of Canadian Geese. The geese can weigh 14 pounds or more, which is too much for an engine to withstand. The impact probably broke several fan blades. With the fan spinning at several thousand revolutions per minute, the vibration likely cause a complete failure of the engine. The extremely unlucky thing is that it happened twice to Flight 1549.
Large, heavy commercial aircraft don’t fly very well without their engines. While a sailplane can have a glide ratio of around 60, meaning for every foot of altitude it loses it can travel forward 60 feet, an Airbus full of passengers and fuel has a glide ratio of maybe 12. If the aircraft lost power at 3000 feet, it could glide up to 6.8 statue miles under ideal conditions. This wasn’t enough distance to return to LaGuardia. There was an airport in New Jersey that was close, but probably not close enough, and near heavily populated areas. Keep in mind that the aircraft was probably traveling at 130 to 180 miles per hour, which gave the pilot only 2 to 3 minutes to make a landing. He had to make a quick decision under amazing pressure, and he the right thing by choosing the river.
Not to say a water landing is without risk. A lot of force is involved in hitting water at such high speeds. It is amazing that the aircraft didn’t cartwheel or break apart. While the aircraft appears to be intact in the video, this new photo of the plane being pulled from the river shows extensive damage to the underside:
Michael Appleton, New York Times
Just as oil floats on water, an airplane full of jet fuel is fairly buoyant, which is lucky for the passengers given the frigid temperature of the water. The fast response of the ferry boats is also extremely lucky and amazing. The boat captains did an excellent job of reaching the aircraft and maneuvering their vessels as the plane drifted downriver. The compassion of the ferry passengers is also heartwarming.
Overall it’s just so nice to hear a big news story with a happy ending, as that doesn’t happen very often these days.
If you want to read another story of inflight engine failures and amazing heroism, but with a less happy ending, look up United Flight 232. I was very priveledged to hear Captain Haynes speak at my school many years ago, and his story is another example of how well some people can perform under extreme pressure.No comments
Well, I did it. I bought myself an early Christmas present: the Panasonic DMC-LX3 I’d been drooling over.
It is an interesting camera; when it comes to the specs everyone knows and loves, it doesn’t stand out. Its megapixel count is “only” 10.0, and the zoom is just 2.5x. Novices will shrug their shoulders and move on. In order to appreciate the camera, you have to know what an aperture number means (f/2.0 to f/2.8 anyone?) and have a feel for what a 24mm lens will do for you.
First impressions are very good. It feels nice in the hand, with a smooth metal case and a hefty piece of glass up front. The camera body is only about 1 inch thick, but the retracted lens adds close to another inch. The screen is very large and bright, and the controls seem decent, although the Menu button seems to function different from my brain, as I keep pressing it at the wrong times.
I bought this camera to fill a gap between my DSLR (Olympus E-500) and my little waterproof point-and-shoot (Olympus 770SW). Both cameras are are good in their respective elements, but neither excels at social occasions. The DSLR is too large to cart around to many events and can make people uncomfortable when you point it at them. The 770SW takes nice photos outside during the day, but is quite poor at night or indoors, when many gatherings take place.
So enter the DMC-LX3. With its fast, stabilized lens and small size, it seems to fill the gap nicely.
I played around in the house last night snapping pictures of every little thing I spotted and was quite impressed with the initial images. In macro mode at wide angle it can focus on things that are practically touching the lens, which is fun but dangerous! Below are some samples. Click here for a couple more.1 comment
I’ve been in a bit of a creative rut the last few months, but I feel that I’m finally starting to come back around with a renewed interest in my favorite creative hobby, photography. To get my mind back on track (and to help convince myself I’m not such a miserable failure), I thought it would be fun to look back on my first 90 days of being serious about taking pictures. On December 26th, 2001 I received a Canon PowerShot G2 for Christmas. This was my first good camera, and I had wanted it for quite a while. I really enjoyed using it and took some really fun pictures those first 90 days.
(Note: The photos have been “remastered” for your viewing pleasure.)No comments
A while back I asked the question, “Can a camcorder beat a camera at its own game?” Apparently Nikon and Canon feel that I should have asked the opposite question, as they have just bust open a collective can of whoop-ass on the camcorder world with two new Digital SLR cameras.
Nikon landed the first punch with the new D90 DSLR, which can shoot 720P (1280×720) HD video at 24 frames per second. The camera can also take 12.3 megapixel stills and has fun features such as Live View and ultrasonic sensor cleaning. The D90 is available now and costs around $1,050 for the body only.
Canon hopes to land the knockout blow with its soon to be released Canon EOS 5D Mark II, which will bring a jaw-dropping 21.1 megapixel full-frame sensor to the game. The camera will be the first DSLR capable of recording “full HD” 1080P (1920×1080) video. The EOS 5D Mark II will be considerably more expensive than the D90 with a body-only MSRP of $2,699. It hits the markets in November.
So how do these showoff DSLRs compare to their camcorder cousins? Amazingly well, if the clips I’ve found on Vimeo are any indication. Take a look at beer through the lens of the D90.
And here we have some various footage from the heavyweight 5D Mark II:
These two cameras are game-changers. Their still image performance is exceptional as always, but now they allow photographers to shoot professional-quality video. The cameras may seem expensive, but camcorders with interchangeable lenses cost megabucks. The ability to shoot video through the wonderful glass from Canon, Nikon, and others is dream come true for many videographers. The cameras will open up the world of video to the hugely popular prosumer photography market, making cinematography more appealing for photographers with thousands already invested in lenses and other camera gear.
Obviously these cameras are still a bit too pricey for anyone but professionals and loaded amateurs, but the features from flagship models always trickle down to more affordable underlings over time. With the kind of flexibility offered by these cameras, you’d have to make a pretty good case for investing in a top of the line camcorder right now. Sure, the cameras do have downsides. The D90 uses the less than optimal Motion JPEG format for video. (The 5D Mark II records H.264 MOV files.) Also, HD camcorders feature built-in optical image stabilization, whereas the cameras will have to do stabilization on a lens-by-lens basis. Stabilization is very important when shooting HD video, as minor shakes are very obvious in the final product. It’s unclear how well lenses designed for photography will perform for video, and how the cameras will deal with video accessories like microphones and video lights.
Let me assure you, generous reader, that I am more than willing to conduct a full test of both cameras for you. Just send me your donation and/or evaluation units and I’ll get right on it!1 comment
I see a lot of cars during my daily commute, and lately I’ve been noticing a trend: “smart” cars are popping up everywhere. At first it was kind of cute in a “reminds me of Germany” sort of way, but the little buggers are multiplying. Now I’m starting to wonder why the heck all these tiny European city cars are suddenly sharing San Diego’s freeways with lifted F-150s and 18-wheelers.
Are they cheap? Well, the base smart starts at $13,590. The cabriolet, a popular choice here in San Diego, costs $16,590. That’s kinda cheap, but the way more practical Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris start at $13,950 and $11,550 respectively. So for the same price as a real car, you get a tiny two-seater with a thimble for a trunk. What a way to save!
Fuel economy is just okay… fueleconomy.gov says the smart coupe gets 33/41/36 city/highway/combined MPG. The Fit gets 28/34/31 and the Yaris gets 29/36/32. Sure, the smart is marginally more efficient, until you want to take two friends with you to the bar and the third guy has to drive his Silverado.
After the novelty wears off it can’t be fun to drive. With a 0-to-60 time of 12.8 seconds, a top speed of 90 MPH, and a jerky, laggy automated manual transmission, how fun can it be? Not to mention the dread experienced by the driver when the grill of a Peterbilt is looming in the rear view mirror.
So why do I see so many? After checking out all the facts, I can only come to one conclusion: The smart car is a fashion accessory. In image-conscious San Diego where it’s cool to look “green” and drive something that instantly grabs people’s attention, the smart is a perfect fit. It’s for the same freaks who paid $5000 over MSRP for the New Beetle back in 1998 and waited in line for 12 hours to get the first iPhone in 2007. Some people just love the attention they can’t get without spending money on something that says, “Look at me!” It’s the equivalent of wearing a steak neck-tie so the dog will like you. Or getting fake boobs so men will like you. But hey, if you’re hoping to catch somebody’s eye at a stoplight, gas station, or parking lot, have at it! Just remember, it may be cool now, but in a couple of years you’re not going to feel so smart.1 comment
My cable company recently raised their rates. Suddenly the variety of services they’d managed to sell us was costing almost $150/month! Sure, that got us a lot (digital high-definition (HD) cable with HD digital video recorder (DVR), high-speed internet, and telephone) but $1800/year is an outrageous amount of money to be forking over. In the name of frugality, we decided to take a good hard look at what services we actually use and cut out what we didn’t. Here’s our requirements:
- DVR – We really enjoy being able to watch TV on our schedule, not the networks’.
- “Basic Cable” – All those extra channels occasionally had interesting programs, but we seldom watched them.
- Netflix Watch Instantly – This is a great way to catch up on older shows and movies without waiting for DVDs in the mail. We actually purchased the $99 Roku Netflix Player and loved it, but it would be nice not to have the extra box in the TV stand.
- Internet TV – There are a bunch of ways to watch stuff online, including Hulu (which is great if you don’t mind short commercials), Youtube, podcasts, etc. (I’m sure astute readers can think of some other good ways that I won’t mention here.)
So here we have $150/mo. and $99 invested to watch TV with no quick way to watch the last category. So what to do? There are a variety of “Media Extender” solutions out there (IE Apple TV), but they don’t meet all of our requirements. In order to do all this stuff, we need an all-out Media Center PC with TV tuner card. While I do like Apple products, part of the goal here is “cheap”. A decent refurbished Mac Mini costs $500, which is too much for this project. Plus in order to watch Netflix Instant programming you need Windows. This means Windows Media Center.
So here’s the goal: Build a Windows Media Center PC that will pay for itself in less than a year. By canceling unnecessary cable services and returning the Roku Netflix player, we’ll have saved $579 in that time. If we come in under this goal, that’s money in our pockets. So did we do it? Hells yes! Here’s how:
- Computer – Dell Inspiron 530s. This is Dell’s “economy” model in a slim case that’s perfect for our TV stand. By going to the Dell Outlet and using a 15% off coupon, we managed to snag a refurbished model for $289 (+$44 for tax/shipping) that included Windows Vista Home Premium SP1, an Intel Pentium Dual-Core E2200 (2.2 GHz) processor, 2GB RAM, 500GB hard-drive, and a DVD burner. This same system would have cost $579 new.
- TV Tuner – AverMedia AverTV Combo PCI-E. This is a low-profile PCI-Express 1x TV tuner that fits in the Inspiron 530s’ slim case. It it capable of receiving analog cable/TV as well as ATSC (over-the-air) and QAM (cable) HDTV. It includes a nice IR receiver and remote that has buttons for all of Windows Media Center’s primary functions. I paid $94.99 with free shipping on Amazon. (Note that the card has TWO cable inputs, and if you want to receive both analog and QAM cable you’ll need a splitter to hook up both.)
- Wireless Keyboard/Mouse – Adesso 2.4 GHz RF Wireless Mini Keyboard with Optical Trackball. Finding a keyboard and mouse that works well from the sofa isn’t easy, but this Adesso model is awesome. The ergonomics are perfect for holding it in your lap, and I love the layout of the trackball, scroll wheel, and buttons. Once you grab hold it makes perfect sense. Also nice is that wireless reception is excellent even with the receiver plugged into the back of the computer. I paid $64.24 with free shipping on Amazon.
So there you have it! $333 + $94.99 + $64.24 = $492.23, well under the $579 budget. We also used some Amazon gift cards on the keyboard and TV tuner, which brought our out-of-pocket cost down quite a bit. Of course there were some extras, like an DVI to VGA cable, 3.5mm audio cable, and Cable TV splitter, but I had this stuff already.
So what does all of this allow us to do? Everything we’d hoped for! Windows Vista Media Center with the TV Pack works like a champ. For a Microsoft product, the software is intuitive, full-featured, and easy to use. It has a built-in cable guide with search, great DVR functionality, and the network HD channels look great. I also installed MyNetflix, which is a really nice plugin for Windows Media Center that does everything the Roku box did and more. We can also surf the web and play PC games from the comfort of our sofa. I’m quite pleased with the setup; it’s better than what we previously had and our monthly expenditures have dropped. What more can you ask for?
So maybe all this isn’t ultra-frugal. It’s a bit like saving money by buying caviar in bulk. But it’s a heck of a lot of fun, and we are saving some money, especially if this setup works well for a few years. So grab yer popcorn and head on over to my place for some “frugal” TV bliss!No comments
You may notice a new “Gallery” tab at the top of the Seansense main page. I’ve installed Gallery on the Seansense website, which is an open-source web-based photo album. It integrates nicely with WordPress and will be used in the future for all of my photos. You can access the gallery using the aforementioned tab or by navigating to gallery.seansense.net.
I’ve finished migrating all of the albums referenced in posts on this site to the new gallery. I still have more older galleries to migrate over from the MobileMe (formerly .Mac) Web Gallery and other places.
In the interest of saving $99/year I decided not to renew my MobileMe account. The main thing I used it for was the gallery; I never used the e-mail, syncing, or web-based stuff. The 20GB online storage is nice as it’s well integrated with OS X, but my web host gives me 600GB disk space. I’d like to make my domains, web hosting, and ISP the only things I spend money on for internet, because with these things I can do just about anything I want to. All the extra paid internet services are just money down the drain.
I’m also looking at various other ways to save and consolidate. Mel is starting an unpaid internship this fall so we’re going to be on one income for a while. More on that later.2 comments