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Consumption and Cooking06 Nov 2011 at 1:25 by Jean-Marc Liotier

How dare Fortnum & Mason call Sir Nigel’s Vintage Orange Marmalade “thick cut” ? This effete excuse for a preserve may barely contain ten weak bits of chewy peel in each pot. Give me Wilkin & Sons Tiptree ‘tawny’ : proper English orange marmalade with actual thick cuts ! Signed : yours truly – Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.

Consumption and Security and Systems administration09 Apr 2010 at 1:33 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Lexmark stubbornly refuses to make any effort toward providing, or at least letting other people provide, printer drivers for their devices – don’t buy from them if you need support for anything other than their operating system of choice.

After repeatedly acquiring throwaway inkjet printers from Lexmark and repeatedly wondering why my mother’s Ubuntu laptop can’t use them, my father finally accepted my suggestion of studying compatibility beforehand instead of buying on impulse – years of pedagogy finally paid off !

My parents required a compact wireless device supporting printing and scanning from their operating systems – preferably fast and silent, if possible robust and not too unsightly. No need for color, black and white was fine – though I would have pushed them toward color if multifunction laser printing devices capable of putting out colors were not so bulky. Those requirements led us toward the Samsung SCX-4500W.

I connected the Samsung SCX-4500W on one of the Ethernet ports of my parent’s router and went through the HTTP administration interface. The printing controls are extremely basic – but the networking configuration surprised me with a wealth of supported protocols : raw TCP/IP printing, LPR/LPD, IPP, SLP, UPnP, SNMP including SNMP v3, Telnet, email alert on any event you want – including levels of consumables… Anything I can think about printing on top of my mind is there. The funniest thing is that neither the product presentation, nor the specification sheet or the various reviews advertise that this device boasts such a rich set of networking features… Demure advertising – now that’s a novel concept !

I set-up wireless the printer’s 802.11 networking features, unplugged the Ethernet cable, rebooted the device… And nothing happened. No wireless networking, no error and, when I reconnected the Ethernet cable and got back to the administration interface, the radio networking menu was not even available anymore. After careful verification I could reliably reproduce that behaviour. At that stage, my parents were already lamenting the sorry state of the ever-unreliable modern technology – and most users would have been equally lost.

I pressed on and found that I was not alone in my predicament. User experiences soon led me to the solution : I had configured my parent’s radio network to use WPA with TKIP+AES encryption (the best option available on their access point) but the Samsung SCX-4500W was unable to support that properly. The administration interface’s radio networking menu proposed TKIP+AES but silently failed to establish a connection and seemed to screw the whole radio networking stack. Only setting my parent’s Freebox and all other devices on the network, to use TKIP only instead of TKIP+AES yielded a working setup with a reachable printer, at the cost of using trivially circumventable security to protect the network’s traffic from intrusion.

Now that is seriously bad engineering : not supporting a desirable protocol is entirely forgivable – but advertising it in a menu, then failing to connect without generating the slightest hint of an error message, and as a bonus wedging the user into an irrecoverable configuration is a grievous sin. I managed to overcome the obstacle, but this is a device aimed at the mass market and I can perfectly understand its target audience’s desire to throw it out of the window.

On that problem was solved, configuring the clients over the network was a breeze and pages of nice print were soon flying out quickly and silently. In summary, the Samsung SCX-4500W is a stylish printing and scanning device that lives up to its promises – apart from that nasty bug that makes me doubt Samsung’s quality control over its networking features.

Scanning with the Samsung SCX-4500W is another story entirely – it should work with the xerox_mfp SANE backend, but only through USB. For now I have found no hope of having it scan for a Linux host across the network.

Consumption and Cycling and Geography and Photography07 Apr 2010 at 12:07 by Jean-Marc Liotier

One fellow mapper on talk-fr@openstreetmap.org complained that there was very few comments about the Amod AGL 3080 GPS logger from other OpenStreetMap users… So here is one.

I liked my trusty Sony GPS-CS1 GPS logger, but autonomy of barely more than a good riding day was too short for my taste and the one Hertz sampling rate was too low for satisfactory OpenStreetMap surveying by bicycle or roller-skate, though it was plenty for walking.

After sifting through various reviews and specification sheets, I declared the Amod AGL 3080 the true heir to the Sony GPS-CS1. And after a few months of use I am not disappointed.

AMOD AGL 3080 GPS logger

This solid little unit is simple to use : normal operation requires a single button. After mounting as USB mass storage with a standard mini-USB cable, a pass trough GPSbabel is all that is needed before the data is ready for consumption. There is also a handy second button for marking waypoints – I use it mostly to record points of interests. The AGL 3080’s SiRF Star III chipset provides satisfactory reception – subjectively much better than the GPS-CS1’s, and the storage capacity is more than you will need for anything up to a transcontinental ride. It uses three AAA batteries, which makes it practical for underway replenishment while making the use of rechargeables possible too. For a walkaround, PocketGPSWorld has a review with detailed pictures.

But what I appreciate most is the ability to configure the output NMEA sentences for the best compromise between autonomy and the richness of the of logged data. 6 logging modes can be by cycled through by pressing the “MARK” button for as much precision or as much battery life as you wish to adjust as you go :

Mode LED Status Output format Interval (seconds) Records Duration (hours)
1 “Memory
Full” on
GGA/GSA/RMC/VTG 1 260 000 72
GSV 5
2 “Memory Full” flash Only
RMC
1 1 040 000 288
3 “GPS” on GGA/GSA/RMC/VTG/GSV 5 260 000 360
4 “Battery Low” on Only
RMC
5 1 040 000 1440
5 “Battery Low” on GGA/GSA/RMC/VTG/GSV 10 260 000 720
6 “Battery Low” flash Only RMC 10 1 040 000 2880

The not so good is that the absence of rubber gasket on the battery compartment hints that this device is not waterproof. Like the Sony GPS-CS1 it has been through rain with no apparent problem, but pushing my luck too far will probably result in corrosion.

The ugly is that I have yet to find a way to strap the Amod AGL 3080 securely. It features a strap slot on only one side, making any balanced setup impossible. Supplied Velcro strap can connect it to a carabiner, but the resulting contraption dangles around wherever you attach it – I hate to have dangling things attached to my kit. The Sony GPS-CS1has a pouch that features a convenient Velcro strap to conveniently attach it to a any strap – I use it on top of my backpack’s shoulder straps or on top of my handlebar bag. The Amod AGL 3080 has nothing like that and I have yet to find a good way to mount it on my bicycle – for now, rubber-bands are the least worst option.

But for 70 Euros, it is a bargain if you need a cheap, simple and flexible GPS logger for photography, sports or cartography. Buy it – and then tell me if how you succeeded in mounting it on a bicycle or on a backpack !

Consumption and Free software and Knowledge management and Mobile computing and Networking & telecommunications and Systems and Technology and Unix19 Oct 2009 at 1:18 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Five months have elapsed since that first week-end when my encounter with Android was a severe case of culture shock. With significant daily experience of the device, I can now form a more mature judgement of its capabilities and its potential – of course from my own highly subjective point of view.

I still hate having to use Google Calendar and Google Contacts for synchronization.  I hope that SyncML synchronization will appear in the future, make Android a better desktop citizen and provide more choice of end points. Meanwhile I use Google. With that out of the way, let’s move on to my impressions of Android itself.

I am grateful for features such as a decent web browser on a mobile device, for a working albeit half baked packaging and distribution system, and for Google Maps which I consider both a superlative application in its own right and the current killer albeit proprietary infrastructure for location enabled applications. But the rigidly simple interface that forces behaviours upon its user feels like a straitjacket : the overbearing feeling when using Android is that its designers have decided that simplicity is to be preserved at all costs regardless of what the user prefers.

Why can’t I select a smaller font for my list items ? Would a parameter somewhere in a customization menu add too much complication ? Why won’t you show me the raw configuration data ? Is it absolutely necessary to arbitrarily limit the number of virtual desktops to three ? From the point of a user who is just getting acquainted with such a powerful platform, those are puzzling questions.

I still don’t like the Android ‘s logic, and moreover I still don’t quite understand it. Of course I manage to use that system, but after five month of daily use it still does not feel natural. Maybe it is just a skin-deep issue or maybe I am just not the target audience – but some features are definitely backwards – package management for example. For starters, the “My Downloads” list is not ordered alphabetically nor in any apparently meaningful order. Then for each upgradeable package, one must first browse to the package, then manually trigger the upgrade package, then acknowledge system privileges the upgraded package and finally clear the download notification and the update notification. Is this a joke ? This almost matches the tediousness of upgrading Windows software – an impressive feat considering that the foundations of Android package management seem serious enough. Where is my APT ?

Like any new user on a prosperous enough system, I am lost in choices – but that is an embarrassment of riches. Nevertheless, I wonder why basics such as a task manager are not installed by default. In classic Unix spirit, even the most basic system utilities are independent applications. But what is bearable and even satisfying on a system with a decent shell and package management with dependencies becomes torture when installing a package is so clumsy and upgrading it so tedious.

Tediousness in package management in particular and user interaction in general makes taming the beast an experience in frustration. When installing a bunch of competing applications and testing them takes time and effort. Experimenting is not the pleasure it normally is on a Linux system. The lack of decent text entry compounds the feeling. Clumsy text selection makes cut and paste a significant effort – something Palm did make quick, easy and painless more than ten years ago. Not implementing pointer-driven selection – what were the developers thinking ?

PIM integration has not progressed much. For a given contact, there is no way to look at a communications log that spans mail, SMS and telephony: each of them is its own separate universe. There is no way to have a list of meetings with a given contact or at given location.

But there basic functionality has been omitted too. For example when adding a phone number to an existing contact, search is disabled – you have to scroll all the way to the contact. There is no way to search the SMS archive and SMS to multiple recipients is an exercise left to applications.

Palm OS may have been unstable, incapable of contemporary operating system features, offering only basic functionality and generally way past its shelf date. But in the mind of users, it remains the benchmark against which all PIM systems are judged. And to this day I still don’t see anything beating Palm OS on its home turf of  PIM core features and basic usability.

Palm OS was a poster child for responsiveness, but on the Android everything takes time – even after I have identified and killed the various errant applications that make it even slower. Actually, the system is very fast and capable of feats such as full-motion video that were far beyond the reach of the Palm OS. But the interaction is spoilt by gratuitous use of animations for everything. Animations are useful for graphically hinting the novice user about what is going on – but then hey are only a drag. But please let me disable animations as I do on every desktop I use !

The choice of a virtual keyboard is my own mistake and I am now aware that I need a physical keyboard. After five months, I can now use the virtual keyboard with enough speed and precision for comfortable entry of a couple of sentences. But beyond that it is tiring and feels too clumsy for any meaningful work. This is a major problem for me – text entry is my daily bread and butter. I long for the Treo‘s keyboard or even the one on the Nokia E71 – they offered a great compromise of typing speed and compacity. And no multitouch on the soft keyboard means no keyboard shortcuts which renders many console applications unusable – sorry Emacs users.

The applications offering is still young and I cannot blame it for needing time to expand and mature. I also still need to familiarize myself with Android culture an develop the right habits to find my way instinctively and be more productive. After five months, we are getting there – one handed navigation has been done right. But I still believe that a large part of the user interface conventions used on the Android does not match the expectations for general computing.

It seems like everything has been meticulously designed to bury under a thick layer of Dalvik and Google plaster anything that could remind anyone of Unix. It is very frustrating to know that there is a Linux kernel under all that, and yet to suffer wading knee-deep in the marshes of toyland. The more I use Android an study it, the more I feel that Linux is a mere hardware abstraction layer and the POSIX world a distant memory. This is not the droid I’m looking for.

Consumption and Cycling and Roller skating12 Oct 2009 at 0:22 by Jean-Marc Liotier

As a preamble, let me declare that I am in no way affiliated with Princeton Tec and that I stand to gain or lose nothing by expressing my opinions about their products.

A year ago, I needed a light for both cycling and skating, powerful enough for seeing and being seen in urban traffic, and with the capability to rapidly switch between the two modes, which means helmet mounting. So I went searching the web. Among the most interesting finds was Bike Magazine’s December 2007’s test of eight LED trail lights – the Princeton Tec Switchback are HID not LED, but the tests were otherwise informative. I ended up with a shortlist of two candidates : the Niterider TriNewt and the Princeton Tec Switchback 3.

As MTBR’s light shootout illustrates, the Switchback 3 is far from being as powerful as the Nite Rider Trinewt, but it has twice the autonomy (six hours at full power) which is important because on a skating raid I want reliable lighting that can last the whole night. Its list price is 40% lower price and it features a blinking mode which I find useful for surviving the daily commute among zombie drivers with mobile phones. Considering the startled looks on people’s face when I ride across town, I’m guessing that the Switchback 3 is plenty powerful enough for that purpose – it even gets me well noticed in daytime, especially on blink mode.

But power is not everything. In addition to the power, the Switchback 3 has a well designed beam pattern with enough reach for moderately high speeds in the dark, and enough width close up for seeing what you are sticking your wheels into. The two outer beams provide the reach, and the diffused center beam provides the breadth. The regulated power supply ensures stable lighting power whatever the state of the lithium-ion battery (which charges in two hours). With battery, the Switchback 3 is 300 grams heavier than the Nite Rider Trinewt, but if I need to lose weight I’ll start with some body fat. In addition, the weight of the light itself is very low and the hefty remote battery can be stuck near the center of gravity, where its weight is not a concern.

The whole system is watertight – even the connectors are very well designed. During the year it endured heavy rains with no problem although one handed connection and disconnection is a bit difficult with wet gloves.

The lamp not only looks solid – it most definitely is very solid. Skating in a traffic jam, as I passed a stationary dump truck I ducked under its rear and forgot about the light topping my helmet, thus underestimating my height. The light smashed hard into the dump. While my head strapped to the helmet stopped my upper body, the rest continued and I fell down on my ass. The light took the full brunt of the shock of my skating 93 kilograms – backpack not included. That was enough to make it pop out of its otherwise sturdy quick-release tool-less helmet mount, but I was able to slide it back in right away and it is still as secure as before. There is now a dent in the frame, but the frame played its role right as the slightly recessed optics did not suffer the slightest. The system has been performing nominally ever since.

I love this light and I think that my security on the road has markedly improved since I have been wearing it. Here is another review from Crankfire and one from Metro Sucks – both go along the same lines.

My only gripe was that the extension cord was too short. For applications such as roller skating raids and even for exploring the catacombs of Paris (hint – mount it on the side of the helmet to avoid bumping into the low ceiling all the time) really for anytime a backpack is worn, the original extension cord is perfect for having the accumulator pack in the backpack and the lamp on the helmet.  But for strapping the battery on my bicycle frame while using the light on the helmet mount, it is far too short. Of course, mounting the lamp on the handlebars would not require an additional extension, but on top of the additional flexibility, helmet mounting allows me to point the beam towards the direction from which I want to attract attention – for cycling and skating, that provides appreciable extra security in dense urban traffic. So I went looking for an extension cord that is longer than the one supplied with the package, but did not find anything like that.

I asked Princeton Tec support for help and the extremly helpful Rob confirmed that instead of a longer cord I could chain two of the original ones. But I only had the one shipped with the lamp and searching for Princeton Tec Switchback extension cord only yielded pages of shops displaying the description of the accessories kit sold with the lamp. None of those seems to sell the cord itself.

I asked Rob again and his reaction utterly surprised me – he simply offered to ship me an additional extension cord… Free of any cost ! That is support above and beyond the call of duty. The Switchback’s price led me to expect good support, but I have often been disapointed by other companies pretending to care. That was not the case with Princeton Tec : those guys plainly turned a slight gripe into complete satisfaction – with a cord now long enough I have nothing left to complain about. Considering the cost of an extension cord, one could see their reaction as just good commercial sense – a happy and probably returning customer for a few dollars, but it is not everyday that I stumble upon a supplier with that sort of intelligence. It looks like I am not the only one to have had that sort of experience with them. Thank you Princeton Tec – next time I need a lamp for anything, you can be sure you’ll end up shortlisted at least !

Brain dump and Consumption and Mobile computing and Unix17 Jun 2009 at 22:23 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I acquired an HTC “G2″ Magic less than two days ago. It runs the Android operating system. The feeling of being confronted with something very alien pushed me to record my first impressions with it to give an account of how a foreigner perceives the Android world with his naïve eyes, in his own words. For other systems where I’m a power user, I find the experience of newcomers interesting when they candidly point out problems we ignore because we have simply grown used to them.

This entry relates my feelings from friday night to sunday night. It may seem ridiculous in the future, but it is an instantaneous snapshot – for what it is worth.

First contact with the Android is a severe case of culture shock. More than ten years of Palm OS have shaped my expectations, and the disappointing past year with S60 on the Nokia E71 has not changed them much. But plunging into Android is unlike anything I have used so far – many of the UI conventions feel utterly strange. The home screen has a familiar status bar – but beyond that, Android is a class of its own. For example, instead of grabbing the scroll bar and sliding it, one has to slide the list itself – not illogical, but the contrary of any familiar widget kit I have come accross anywhere else. And many other things are just as alien.

After poking around a little, my first reaction is disorientation from the lack of keyboard. I could write tolerably fast with Palm’s Graffiti, but I was in love with the Treo-style keyboards – on the the Treos as well as on the E71 they let me write considerable volumes fluidly and without excessive strain. But my first attempts at text entry on the G2 are stumbling hit and miss torture with each word containing at least two typing errors. And why does the automatic correction insist on changing my “jm@liotier.org” address to “kn@liotier.org” every single time I enter it in a web form ? Text entry on the G2 is tedious enough without this sort of annoyance…

To be fair, I knew I had to expect text entry woes – I had anticipated that risk when choosing the G2 over the G1. Learning a new tool takes times, especially when low level reflexes are involved, so I have budgeted a few weeks for climbing up the learning curve. Then I’ll decide if I like onscreen keyboards or not. But whatever the learning, it seems that text entry on a virtual keyboard requires to keep one’s eyes on the keyboard – whereas with a physical keyboard, after a while muscle memory sets in and you can forget the keyboard to concentrate on what you are writing. So I’m not optimistic so far – but I’ll keep my mind open. Meanwhile, tactile feedback screens are on the way – I’ll keep an eye on them.

I miss the four-ways arrows button, but the obscene pointing device works rather well although like the rest it will take time to get used to. A “page down” button would be even better than having to swipe the whole screen every time I want to scroll down one step – one page at the time would be more precise than scrolling a random number of lines according to how much inertia the widget takes from the swipe. Screen swipe and inertia are sexy gimmicks, but I don’t understand how heavy users tolerate them for more than five minutes. I’m the sort of user who disables smooth scrolling and any on-screen animation that introduces the slightest lag in my interaction with the system – and I know I’m not the only one who wants responsiveness above everything else.

A combination of importing in Evolution a CSV file generated with Outlook, synchronization from the Nokia E71 to Google and copying native Evolution contacts to Google did not manage to capture at once all of the information I wanted transferred – so I had to munge some of the data and re-enter quite a few of the notes and adresses manually… Hopefully that is the last time I do that. Those contacts had often been through various synchronizations between Palm OS devices, Outlook and Evolution – but getting them to Google seemed lossier than usual. I have read about many other contorted data migration paths, and this one looked straightforward enough – but if I have to do it again I’ll spend time setting up better automation. I’ll concede that it does not have much to do with Android – anywhere you look the synchronization ecosystem seems quite wet behind the ears.

I won’t complain too much about how tightly tied the system is with Google’s applications – after all that is a major feature of Google’s Android business model. With the defaults applications, Android is a seamless extension of the Google universe. Synchronization of calendar and contacts is excellent – although it only happens eventually and you have no way to know when or to trigger it (this is the first time I ever see this implemented with no control by the user). In addition, I am very uncomfortable with the idea of using a third party as my synchronization hub and I’ll look for another way.

But every functionnality seems available through an API – so with the user in control and free to act there is no reason to complain. I’ll ignore the Gmail and Google Talk clients, and replace them with a decent XMPP client and an IMAP client better than the default one – and maybe I’ll even find a decent contacts manager. Meanwhile the native Google Maps client is such a pleasure to use that I could forget everything else (though I wonder why the relief layer has been omitted – I find it very useful for planning human powered movement).

The scarcity of exposed configuration options, output logs and exposed information in general leaves me wanting. For example the Jabiru Jabber client tells me “connexion error” but won’t explain anything, resulting in frustration. Of course, Jabiru is not part of the basic system, but this rarefied atmosphere seems to be the norm in the Android world. And why is there no option to sort the contacts by “family name, first name” instead of the default “first name, family name” ? Would that clutter the interface too much ? Even the simplicity-worshipping Palm OS gave that choice…

I guess that a compromise has been struck in favor of simplicity by default over configurability, and that developper tools are available to provide advanced access to deeply buried parameters – but for example not being able to set the language to english with the french keyboard upsets me a lot. I’m used the english as a device language, and I’m used to the french “AZERTY” keyboard – reading french or typing on a QWERTY keyboard with no accents feels awkward. On any other system I know, keyboard and language are two separate options – but not on Android. I hope I find an application that provides finer grained options. I was also frutrated not to find any configuration option that would solve my above-mentioned problem with the scrolling style.

The Android Market feels sluggish. I have been spoilt by APT caching all packages descriptions locally – and now I have to suffer Android Market loading package descriptions and icons slower than I scroll accross the list that only shows six items per page with no way of getting the device to display smaller characters in order to cram more lines per page. I can understand that the icons must be stored online for storage space’s sake, and maybe the user comments in order to keep them current – but why not load the whole package list at once ? And why does every list on this device use a standard widget that seems sized large enough for legibility by half blind users ? Where is the configuration option ?

Many of my gripes are probably related with the default applications, and after exploring the Android Market for a while I’m sure I’ll feel better. I’m commenting an operating system in its default form, and this is obviously not how I’m going to use it – In a few weeks, after the normal process of appropriation, my Android will hopefully not look and feel like its current state at all.

So see you in a couple of months for a look back at these first impressions – we’ll see which were real problems and which were merely artefacts of the clash of cultures ! For now I have the eery feeling of having stumbled in a sort of Apple-esque Disneyland with my hands tied…

Consumption and Roller skating17 Jan 2008 at 5:58 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Let us make it clear from the start that apart from the color and the number of wheels, those two skates have not much in common. The FSK Crossmax is my trusty urban assault vehicle, rugged, comfortable and quick to react to the unexpected. But on the open road, the Crossmax feels like short legs. So I took advantage of the winter clearance sale to acquire cheaply the Fila M100 I had been coveting. My feelings after a short test ride are about the same as anyone trying 100 millimeter wheels and carbon shoes for the first time, but I guess I’ll get used to the bigger and stiffer legs.

Since a picture is worth 10^3 words let me show you the graphical impression I had when I dropped the newcomers next to the incumbent pair :

Now you understand what I mean when I say “bigger legs”, especially if you realize that the Crossmax is anything but a toy skate.

I’m sure I’ll enjoy the potential for powerful pushes, sheer speed and efficiency in long distance raids, but I’ll definitely need to upgrade my maneuvering technique. And I’ll most certainly keep using the Crossmax for everything but the great wide open !

Consumption and Mobile computing26 Sep 2007 at 16:41 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I mistakenly believed that the Com One Bluetooth Oneboard would probably be compatible with the Treo 680. Testing it with the latest drivers proved me wrong : no communication between the Treo and the Keyboard was ever achieved, and exiting the driver’s control panel reliably triggered a reboot.

Apparently, the iGo Stowaway is also incompatible with the Treo 680. Some further research showed that although there are plenty of Bluetooth keyboards available for the Treo 650, but none of them is sold as compatible with the Treo 680 in spite of how similar the two phones are. I would guess that the Bluetooth stacks differ enough to be a problem.

Even if there are significant hurdles that hamper porting Bluetooth keyboard drivers to the Treo 680, I am very surprised that the manufacturers have dropped the ball in such way. I would guess that the consumers are not the only ones losing patience with Palm, and that the vendors are now starting to abandon ship.

Anyway, I’ll probably have to buy another infrared keyboard to replace the Think Outside infrared keyboard I killed by over-use…

Consumption and Photography and Picture of the day26 Dec 2006 at 12:23 by Jean-Marc Liotier

After agonizing for a few months over a lighting equipment purchase decision I finally took the plunge and bought a couple of additional Canon Speedlite 580EX, in accordance to the teachings of the guru of small shoe-mount flashes.

Even cheap AC powered lights provide more power than the Canon portable strobes will ever put out, but I can carry the portable strobes anywhere in my backpack and set the up on a whim – and that fits my lifestyle much better. As Strobist says : “larger strobes have their place, but they tend to spend a lot of time in trunks and stuffed under beds. But the small, everyday strobe is always in the waistpack ready to go“.

I began playing with my new toys on this Christmas week-end as I happened to have a willing model at hand. My first setup was definitely random and the results are rather haphazard but I have at least the above picture to be quite happy with.

After that first experience I can already say that I do not regret my decision. A bunch of 580EX are really a pocket studio all by themselves – and with a €4 screw mount adapter I can even make good use of those flimsy toy tripods given away with breakfast cereal packs and spotting scopes. I now have ample room to grow my lighting skills and have loads of fun on the way. Expect more multiple flash experiments !

Consumption and Photography14 Nov 2006 at 22:31 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Today I got a Canon Eos 400D in the mail. I could not resist playing with it this morning before heading for the office. The very first impression comes from the better quality of the finish, a mode selector that does not slip under sweaty fingers and instant power-on. The feeling that comes right next is how tiny the grip is – with the 24-70/2.8L it feels downright ridiculous. But the improvements soon let me forgive that : bigger buffer, AF mode control, second curtain flash (CF 9-1), custom function 4-3 (AF and AE on the ‘*’ key, AE lock at half shutter press, shutter priority at full shutter press), flash exposure compensation on the body and an autofocus that I don’t feel like swearing at constantly… All of the major annoyances of the 300D are gone – life is good !

In order to have some decent hardware to cover tomorrow’s soccer game, I borrowed a Canon Eos 30D from my friend Guillaume. I played a bit with it and was immediately in awe of the superior ergonomics. Bigger viewfinder, bigger grip and quick control dial make the 400D feel like a toy in comparison. Even the Canon BG-E3 I bought along with the 400D does not really bridge the gap. Apart from that both cameras actually perform similarly. The feeling of quality and the manipulation speed are significant advantages – the question is open whether you should spend the difference to get them. But the reasons why I borrowed this body are the five frames per second compared with the 400D’s three and the ISO 3200 maximum sensitivity compared with the 400D’s 1600. Five frames per second at ISO 3200… That is fast enough to catch that perfect action frame I’m after ! I don’t need that sort of speed often, but for soccer it is really necessary unless you want lots of blurry frames with no ball in them…

Consumption and Military27 Jul 2006 at 19:52 by Jean-Marc Liotier

In “The Art of Camo” (an article for the American Institute of Graphic Arts), Phil Patton says :

Camouflage attracts modernists raised to believe that ornament is crime. Camo ornaments legally, you might say – its pattern has a job to do.

That quite nicely puts my feelings into words. I worship pragmatism and generally can’t stand pointless decoration… Camouflage is an excellent excuse to indulge in some. So maybe this is the reason why I love camo patterns… Well, that and the way I’m irresistibly attracted toward the sort of large and expensive hardware that camouflaged people play with…

Consumption and Photography04 Jul 2006 at 16:46 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Under the blazing sun during the start of the Le Mans 24 hours skating race I shot only two hundred frames before running my three freshly recharged batteries flat. I first thought that they were nearing the end of their useful lives, but during the night I managed to shoot four hundred frames on a single battery I just recharged. The intense heat from direct sunlight may have something to do with how fast power is depleted.

This comes as a surprise to me : I am used to rotating batteries in an inner pocket near my body to keep them warm in extreme cold weather but this is the first time I encounter performance degradation in extreme heat. And I have no idea how to attack this problem.

Robin Tichy mentions that “Li-ion batteries outperform their counterparts in high-temperature conditions ranging up to 40°–45°C. SLA and NiMH batteries do not perform well in higher-heat situations”. The BP511A batteries I use in my Canon Eos 300D use Li-ion – maybe I should consider myself lucky I did not use NiMH batteries

Consumption and Photography18 Jun 2006 at 0:49 by Jean-Marc Liotier

After using Vuescan everyone realizes that scanner manufacturers should really be ashamed of what they ship with their hardware. Ed Hamrick single handedly produced the only program that really gets the best out of almost every scanners. Without him my precious Nikon LS-30 would just be about useless to me : since 1999 only Vuescan provides useable infrared scratch removal on Linux. Efforts by the SANE project to provide infrared dust removal have not gone beyond the proof of concept stage, so seven years later Vuescan is still the only one to save my negative scanning days. On top of that, support by Ed Hamrick is nothing short of exceptional – he is a highly responsive developper with great passion in his work. Add a perpetual license at a very low price and you probably understand that I’m in love with this product.

Consumption and Mobile computing24 May 2006 at 18:09 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Rough handling and repeated falls took their toll on my Treo 650 : the antenna’s root broke and two screws went AWOL. I thought that naturally the manufacturer would sell spare parts but I was wrong : no amount of begging to Palm‘s dreadful telephone support people could convince them to part with some of their apparently precious stock of spares at any price. Same thing with Orange who distributes the Treo 650. The only solution they propose is to send the device into the black hole of their customer support operation and get it repaired at a ludicruous price. This is of course unacceptable.

Happily I found an alternative source : PerformancePDA sells Treo 650 parts at reasonnable prices ! I do not know where they get them from – maybe they disassemble broken devices to get around Palm‘s horrendous spare parts policy. Anyway order fulfillment by PerformancePDA has been fast with no problem. After tightening the minuscule TORX screws my Treo 650 is back in perfect shape. Having it inoperant for a while made me realize how much I depend on it for efficient daily operation…