Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 4, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....Oddly enough, I haven't had much chance to use my new camera yet. Too busy with other stuff. But I did manage to use the cats as props in my testing to see how close the Canon would focus, so today is closeup day. Magnificent, aren't they?

So what have I been spending all my time on if I wasn't taking hundreds of pictures of my cats? Well, it turned out that the camera spawned a rolling wave of long-needed technology upgrades. The JPEG files it produces are bigger than my old camera, which meant that my old USB 1.0 flash card reader transferred its pictures at molasses speed. So with a little badgering from a friend, I finally popped open my PC's guts, made room for a new card by ripping out my old dial-up modem, and installed a new USB 2.0 card. Much better! But now that I finally had USB 2.0, I figured I should also hook up my all-in-one printer via USB as well. That worked great. There's no difference in printing speed, but the scanner is about 20x faster. (But why are USB cables so damn expensive? Sheesh.)

Then, of course, came a new external hard drive, which I'd never bothered with before because I didn't have a fast enough connection. It works like a champ, though the Seagate tray icon is pretty annoying. (And why does a hard drive need a tray icon anyway?) Then I installed a copy of Ghost, which means I'm once again backing up my computer for the first time in a year. (My old backup software mysteriously died last January, and I never did figure out exactly why.) After some fussing with corrupted files and chkdsk and a bit of defragging, everything was fine. The backup is now working smoothly, the rescue CD has been tested, and I'm prepared for our next earthquake.

Then, as long as I was in the mood, I bought an upgrade of Microsoft Streets & Trips. Big mistake. Aside from an ungodly registration process, the thing also takes a full 30 seconds to load. The old version took about 3 seconds. I doubt very much that a few years of updates is worth this.

So that was that. I finally got everything working, but it cut deeply into cat photographing time. However, as long as we're on the subject of cameras and picture taking, I can certainly recommend Sanyo Eneloop rechargeable batteries. I got a set of eight AAs (plus four AAAs that I didn't really need) from Costco for about twenty bucks, and they're great. I tried to run them down in the camera, but I ended up filling the memory card before the batteries died. Good deal.

Consider this an open thread for (a) cat matters, (b) favorite Christmas gifts, or (c) general tech commentary. Normal non-tech catblogging should resume next week.

Kevin Drum 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (61)

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Comments

Mac?

Posted by: Rob on January 4, 2008 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

The Bamboo Fun pressure sensitive, high resolution graphics pad is my great tech Christmas gift.

Progammable scribbling is so much Funnn!!!

Great close-ups Kevin!

Posted by: Vivy on January 4, 2008 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Magnificent, YES!

Posted by: indykat on January 4, 2008 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

After your original camera post, I decided to get my wife a Nikon D40, with a couple of lenses, including a really nice telephoto (70-300mm whatever that means) with "vibration reduction," which sounded good. She said she couldn't get good closeups of the bald eagles we have up here in the Salish Sea.

She had a decent camera before but nothing that would get a shot like this one of a wave:

Notes from the Kelp

At full size, you can see the individual droplets. Good cameras are really, well, good, apparently.

Posted by: Charles on January 4, 2008 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

Retail stores sell cables at huge markups.

At Newegg you can get a USB cable for $6 with shipping.

Posted by: Chris on January 4, 2008 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

Rechargeable batteries will last a lot longer if you totally let them die before you recharge - try not to recharge if they're only halfway juiced.

Posted by: Ethel-to-Tilly on January 4, 2008 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

I got a GorillaPod, a flexible tripod for digital cameras. It wraps around things if needed. Nifty product.

Posted by: Linkmeister on January 4, 2008 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

If you had a Mac, it would already know what you wanted pictures of and the images would just appear on your iThing without even using your camera.

Posted by: AJ on January 4, 2008 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

"Rechargeable batteries will last a lot longer if you totally let them die before you recharge - try not to recharge if they're only halfway juiced."

That was true with NiCads. The newer Lithium and NiMH batteries do not have this same 'memory' problem. Both types will eventually wear out, but they last a LOT longer than the old NiCads.

Posted by: es on January 4, 2008 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

don't buy USB cables at office supply or audio stores -- get them at the drugstore. They're usually 25% of the price just across the street.

Posted by: travis on January 4, 2008 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

HP 24-inch LCD monitor that swivels from horizontal to vertical. I'm in love.

Posted by: anandine on January 4, 2008 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Wow!!! Love the new camera. Love the kitties, as always.

Posted by: JWC on January 4, 2008 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, did you buy the Canon S5 IS you were looking at? I have one, and love it.

Posted by: Roger on January 4, 2008 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

I desperately wanted a stylish new hat. In fact, it was all I really asked for. Despite a lot of great gift, I was disappointed that I didn't get the one thing I really wanted. After all the gifts were opened and my family was off playing with their new toys, my mom gathered the family back together because there was one gift left. I got my hat. Not only that, but I got it red-ryder bb-gun style and it looks great on me.

And for all the single guys out there, I strongly recommend adding a stylish hat to your collection. It'll set you apart and, if a girl (or guy) likes you, it gives her (or him) a great reason to strike up a conversation with you.

Posted by: Scott Herbst on January 4, 2008 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

Consider the cats' lives vs. Kevin's
Kevin runs around, messing with hardware and software, aggravating himself, burning time and telling himself how much better the things he did in that have made his life.
The cats eat, find sunny spots, go nuts for 5% of the time (on general principle) and page the staff (Kevin) for anything not to their liking.

Which life form has it wired?

Posted by: Stewart Dean on January 4, 2008 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

What Canon did Kevin end up getting?

Posted by: Detroit Dan on January 4, 2008 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

NiMH batteries are the way to go. They seem expensive up-front, but they're awesome in the long run. I've had none fail in the years I've been using them - no more runs to Costco for the big blocks of batteries, no more piles of batteries to stuff in bags for special pickup by the garbage men.

Also, USB cables are cheap - unless you're buying cables from name-brand stores, in which they have like a x2 or x3 markup. Never buy a cable from a chain store, always go for the off brand. You'll never be sorry.

Posted by: Crissa on January 4, 2008 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, I ended up getting the Canon S5. I'll post a full report one of these days, but I haven't used it enough to know all the ins and outs yet.

One thing, though, that it does really well: red eye reduction. Most cameras I've used (or seen results from) don't do a very good job, and the multiple flash technique is annoying besides. But the S5 has some kind of magic orange light that it shines when you press the shutter button, and it removes red eye almost entirely. I've taken pictures of half a dozen people to test it, and only one showed even a tiny amount of red eye. I'm pretty impressed.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on January 4, 2008 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

I can feel the sun now. ahhhhhhhh

Posted by: ET on January 4, 2008 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

A while back you had a post about the "new" keyboard you bought. well i think keyboard technology has finally surpassed that of the early 90's with this

http://www.enermax.com/english/product_peripherals_detail.asp?PrID=82

pretty nifty eh? :-)

Posted by: raffles on January 4, 2008 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

Beautiful pictures. Glad to see them in this New "Blue" Year.

Posted by: phoebes on January 4, 2008 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

Did you pay for Ghost? Your Seagate drive entitles you to this Seagate version of Acronis True Image for free.

http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/support/downloads/discwizard

Posted by: Gary Sugar on January 4, 2008 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

Charles, I have that Nikon D40 and got the 70-300mm VR lens for Christmas too (thanks, Dad)! I was able to zoom in on the Capitol dome from my balcony (it's five miles away or so, as the crow flies) and get it to bigger than life-size through the viewfinder. I was also able to zoom in on the tail logos of planes at the airport, about two miles away, and they are clearly legible and crisp. Amazing stuff.

I can't wait to get around town and take some architecture shots! Hope your wife has as much fun with her new setup!

Posted by: ajw_93 on January 4, 2008 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

@scottherbst:
And for all the single guys out there, I strongly recommend adding a stylish hat to your collection. It'll set you apart and, if a girl (or guy) likes you, it gives her (or him) a great reason to strike up a conversation with you.

So true! My cousin met his wife because of a hat (a leather fedora) that he and I picked out for him when he came to visit me in DC before deploying to the DMZ. When they came back and were stationed locally again, and I met her, she said, "I just thought he was so cute, and he always looked so good in that great hat!"

Personally, I wear an extremely cute woolen hat all winter long that I've had since about 2001 and get consistent comments on it. In summer, I get too hot to hold body heat in with a hat, but do wear scarves in my hair quite often.

Posted by: ajw_93 on January 4, 2008 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

"I finally got everything working, but it cut deeply into cat photographing time."

Coco and Puffy commiserate: good staff is so hard to find. Look at how long this human took just to get his equipment up and running, and what happens to the photo session? It gets cut short, of course, entirely due to human ineptitude.

fortunately there seems to be no sign that human ineptitude cut into meal time. Now *that* would be entirely unforgivable....

Posted by: Staff to Puffy and Coco on January 4, 2008 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

Macs suck.

Question: Do your family abuse your tech knowledge by using as a tech support person? I really hate that.

Posted by: MNPundit on January 4, 2008 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

I got a new Nikon with a wide angle lens, with which I was finally able to photograph an entire cathedral! (Does that make this cat-blogging related?) I love it, except for a few minor quibbles, which I can probably straighten out if I read the instruction book.

Also the new iPhoto, which is fun to play with.

Posted by: KathyF on January 4, 2008 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

(But why are USB cables so damn expensive? Sheesh.)

Wait till you buy your first HDMI cables.

Posted by: Randy Paul on January 4, 2008 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

Ahhh, but USB-3 is on the horizon and it's being touted as 10X USB-2 speed.

Posted by: tommy harper on January 4, 2008 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

Join your local photo club. You will be amazed with yourself after only a couple meetings.

Posted by: Terry Finn on January 4, 2008 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK
"Rechargeable batteries will last a lot longer if you totally let them die before you recharge - try not to recharge if they're only halfway juiced."

Utterly false. Trying to drain that last bit of charge out of your batteries will accelerate the disintegration of the active electrode, shortening the battery's life. Back in the day of timer-based chargers, recharging a half-discharged battery would wind up overcharging it, eventually drying out the electrolyte. All but the cheapest of the newer chargers use some means to measure the state of the battery's charge and thus avoid such overcharging. (Some old NiCd chargers didn't even use timers - they would cook the batteries for as long as you left them in the charger.)

Consider that the original Prius (as sold in Japan in 1999) used banks of standard D-cell NiMH in their battery packs, most of which are still going strong after eight years and the equivalent of tens of thousands of charge/discharge cycles. This is because the Prius very carefully keeps the batteries from either a fully-charged or fully-discharged state. It only exploits about half of their ultimate capacity this way, but in return battery life is an order of magnitude longer.

Posted by: idlemind on January 4, 2008 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

Firewire.

Posted by: Simp on January 4, 2008 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

Try monoprice.com for cables. USB cables as cheap as $0.95. The ones I've bought from them work great.

Posted by: EK on January 4, 2008 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

The picture on the left reminds me of what George W. Bush used to look like after one of his Texas Air National Guard-era cocaine and Jack Daniels benders!

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on January 4, 2008 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

Wait till you buy your first HDMI cables.

Talk about "sticker shock". What do they put in those things??

I got one for the cable box, but not for the upconverting DVD player -- the cable costs more than the player!

Posted by: Thlayli on January 4, 2008 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

Don't buy ANY cables at big box stores.

www.monoprice.com -- a 1394 cable that cost $50 at Best Buy cost $6 with shipping at monoprice. Ditto for USB cables, HDMI cables, etc.

I swear this post isn't spam, I'm just tired of overpriced cables. It started with printer cables back in the day, and it's gotten worse.

Posted by: Alex Pavloff on January 4, 2008 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

Zoe is quite relieved that Domino and Inkblot are back. First thing she said when she came in the door today was "Nana, Kevin isn't on vacation anymore, is he?"

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on January 4, 2008 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK

Note to Kevin: If you have to install an actual card to get USB 2.0, then you absolutely, positively need a new computer.

Posted by: Bruce the Canuck on January 4, 2008 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

Bruce: How else would one get USB 2.0 on a computer that didn't originally have it?

Posted by: Kevin Drum on January 4, 2008 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

Fab pics. I can almost count Inkblot's whiskers . . .

Posted by: kc on January 4, 2008 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK

The newer Macs will sense the existence of the printer/scanner and automatically snake the cables across to connect (requires Osx 10.4.1 or later). Contrary to one of the comments ("Macs suck") the automatically-vacuums-your-carpet feature will not be implemented until Osx 10.6 because they are a little behind on the sensor which detects allergens.

Posted by: Bob G on January 4, 2008 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

>How else would one get USB 2.0 on a computer that didn't originally have it?

No, that makes a kind of sense. But if it didn't originally have USB 2.0, it's showing its age - 2.0 was the standard by 2001. Might be easier on yourself to replace than upgrade at that point, although for all I know you happily edit the blog using raw html in notepad.

Posted by: Bruce the Canuck on January 4, 2008 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

the S5 has some kind of magic orange light that it shines when you press the shutter button, and it removes red eye almost entirely.

Actually that orange light helps the camera focus in low light -- it has nothing to do with red-eye removal. The reason the S5 does not have the red-eye problem is that its flash pops up and is far from the lens. The greater the distance from the lens to the flash, the less red eye you will get -- because the retina's reflection is not seen by the lens. (Some cameras do fire the flash once before taking the picture to cause the subjects' irises to close and reduce red eye that way -- but that is done with the normal flash, not with an "orange light". And the double flash is very annoying).

Posted by: JS on January 4, 2008 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

Scott Herbst @3:47 p.m. -- I have a similar story. All I really wanted for Christmas was a new pair of New Balance running shoes, just like the pair I'd just worn out. I found them on the net, printed out the page, wrote the size no. and color on the page, and taped it to the refrigerator. I told my husband the shoes were all I wanted for Christmas. I work at home, but I never saw the shoes delivered. I complained to my daughter that I thought her dad had forgotten to order them; my daughter feigned agreement. Boy, was I surprised (and embarrassed) on Christmas morning. As it happened, they arrived one day while I was away and my daughter found them and hid them. Never trust a quiet teenager.

Posted by: pol on January 4, 2008 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK

I would just say "defragmenting," but I guess you're some hyper-hip 16-year-old who has to say "defragging" because that extra syllable "ment" is just too, too old-fogeyish and "square." "Aw, nuts, dude, don't rain on my parade, Mr. Establishment. Now we're cooking with gas!!"

I have yet to buy a working digital camera because, unlike you and probably most of the readers of this site, I'm not some rich, self-indulgent, spoiled rich person. I did have a "digital camera" that cost $40.00 several years ago. It came from one of those catalogs collecting exciting "bargains." It was never anything but terrible, terrible, terrible and took blurry, cruddy pictures. I suppose nowadays you can find good $40.00 digital cameras. I sometimes think I should get a camera phone just for the camera part, but I don't offhand know how to work those and I can't afford to make a mistake--unlike you, Mr. Would-Be-Hip Moneybags.

At least my "camera" came with great PhotoStudio software. I think I have 3-4 other sorts of photography software on the computer, including a later version of PhotoStudio, all bought because of some technical problem I was having with needing some obscure file format or, I dunno, something. Oh, yes, I know, it was the problem of converting image files from one color format to the other. They all promised to solve this problem, but none of them did. You say to your computer, convert to CMYK or RGB, and you think you've then saved that version, and you try to give files of both versions to the printers, and then the printer tells you that you haven't provided to him what the picture program said you could provide to him. (Hey, I know, let's have an overpriced, greedy, photography studio convert each picture at a price of at lest $5.00 a photo, and then have a mentally ill art director fair-weather "friend" who helped found Gran Fury ("Silence=Death") tell you how lucky you are to be charged that little and not $10.00 a photo for file conversion.)

But my tried-and-true old PhotoStudio is the only user-friendly program. It's really all anyone needs, and I got it for "free" with my crap camera that I sold on eBay years ago, carefully calling the camera little more than a toy that might be good for art projects.

Why don't you tell us about your flat screen TVs and your electric razor and your can opener and other technological marvels that you own???

Posted by: Anon on January 4, 2008 at 7:10 PM | PERMALINK

I think I understand what this article was about. What Kevin really wants is a backup system that's so simple, his cats can do it for him.

Posted by: charlie don't surf on January 4, 2008 at 7:38 PM | PERMALINK

Thayli,

When I got my HDTV, I also got an upconverting DVD player (my old player was not even progressive scan). It included an HDMI to HDMI cable which I used for the player and a DVI to HDMI cable which I use for the cable box. I saved about $100 that way.

Posted by: Randy Paul on January 4, 2008 at 8:13 PM | PERMALINK

Two questions for Kevin:

1) If you're concerned with backing up (ostensibly, maintaining data integrity), why not create a RAID array? Mirror your hard drive.

2) Do you really wear size 15 shoes?

Posted by: Monty on January 4, 2008 at 8:19 PM | PERMALINK

JS: The S5 has two lights, green and orange. The green light is the AF assist and the orange light is for red eye reduction. Or so says the manual, anyway. And although the flash does pop up, it's not really very high above the lens. No more than my old camera, anyway, and it produced red eye all the time.

Anyway, I don't know quite what the orange lamp does, but it works great.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on January 4, 2008 at 8:41 PM | PERMALINK

Nice to see that Canon isn't using that horrid pre-flash for red-eye reduction on your camera. Our A95 uses it, and it is nearly impossible to take a picture of me with my eyes open (I have a hyperactive blink reflex).

Posted by: idelmind on January 4, 2008 at 9:19 PM | PERMALINK

I'm probably wrong, but this is the first time that you've posted a photo of Domino with her eyes closed in a picture that I can remember. Now if the carpet was photoshopped with gray granite or something it would lend some kind of Star Wars character wisdom to her face-not to mention a disambiguation of scale.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on January 4, 2008 at 9:21 PM | PERMALINK

Late to the party, but... Why hasn't anyone thought to put together a digital camera back for old 35mm cameras? Could it be that difficult to make one with medium resolution (4-8 MPixel), with a price tag under 4 figures?

I have a 25 year old Nikkormat that I would love to start using again, but I have no desire to deal with film (I'm lazy and cheap).

Posted by: Marc in Denver on January 4, 2008 at 9:24 PM | PERMALINK

Marc, AFAIK, digital backs came and went some years ago (and at a price point closer to 5 figures than 3). With entry-level DSLRs in the 3 figures and pro-level DSLR's covering the high end, there isn't going to be a market for them, especially given the level of integration possible with a camera designed for a digital sensor that is impossible with a back. What sucks (at least for Canon -- I don't know about Nikon) is that older lenses and accessories probably won't work with a current DSLR.

Posted by: idlemind on January 4, 2008 at 9:57 PM | PERMALINK

That's a great picture of Inkblot.

Posted by: Adam on January 4, 2008 at 10:00 PM | PERMALINK

"General tech commentary"?

Well, here's a truly exceptional analysis that utterly demolishes one component of the government's "official" 9/11 story. Remarkably thorough, scholarly, and well-documented, this one's a permanent keeper:

The NIST Report on the World Trade Center Collapse one year later:
Still Dead On Arrival

By Mark H. Gaffney

... In December 2006 Mark H. Gaffney posted a scathing critique of the US government's official report about the WTC collapse on 9/11. One year later, the case is stronger than ever. ...
.

Posted by: Poilu on January 4, 2008 at 10:52 PM | PERMALINK
Normal non-tech catblogging should resume next week.

Sorry, but it’s obvious that Inkblot can’t believe Obama won Iowa

Posted by: little ole jim on January 4, 2008 at 11:14 PM | PERMALINK

lol those poor cats! I wonder if cats in general, not just your two, ever intuit what those strange (often blindingly flashing) boxes, that are often stuck in their face, do? Or do they just put it down to another silly human annoyance to be basically ignored, like beer.

Posted by: jbk on January 5, 2008 at 12:28 AM | PERMALINK

Interesting -- other Canon models have a red focus assist lamp. So the S5 uses green for focus assist and red for red-eye reduction -- plus white for the flash? It must look like a Christmas tree when it takes a shot... But it's great that it works so well. What will they think of next.

Posted by: JS on January 5, 2008 at 12:38 AM | PERMALINK

If it wasn't said before. Inkblot says ' I am ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille'!

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O/F in 08! on January 5, 2008 at 4:02 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder if Kevin has lost his power because of the storm. We're just getting it now in San Diego county.

Posted by: Speed on January 5, 2008 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

I give up! The evidence of the almost insufferable superiourity of my cats in cuteness to your's must be forever captive to my technological backwardness and general parsimony.
You win again. As you always do.

Posted by: Mooser on January 7, 2008 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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