Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Oh my … we should all be very frightened …

Remember my comments about the idiocracy? Take a look …


If this fellow ends up being the Veep in coming years, the west is in for a bigger world of intellectual hurt than we already enjoy from the religious right’s choke hold on US politics …

Monday, July 30, 2012

Rogers – the run around mark II – from the ridiculous to the …

Warning: Language. I am tired, having been on the phone with Rogers for a long time and three people. I am irritated, having had no success. AGAIN. So if you don’t like rough language, then skip this post. Thanks so much.

… more ridiculous. That’s the end of the title.

I am stunned. I got an email from Rogers today that suggested that they could call me and help me upgrade my plan so I could get the new phone. Um … no kidding. I could help me upgrade too if all I wanted to do was piss away more cash. Good grief, the problem is that I was to find a reasonable solution to these costs while still getting decent features and service. All anyone wants to do at Rogers is spend my money

I got a second email from the fellow that the first fellow said was going to call me. He told me to email back if I was interested. Hmmm … why not just call in myself, I thought?

So I called this evening. Having spent last night on a half dozen spread sheets with alternatives, I had settled on a plan that would chop more than $100 from my overall bill and retain all the things we valued, while jettisoning the things we do not value.

Today I called only about wireless, but let me first cover the other services.


This will stay at $99.99 Ultimate service. 250GB cap, 75Mbps down, 2Mbps up. Very nice service overall, performance is good except in the evening, when things bog down badly. Typical of cable systems where so many people share a segment.

I will not do anything that could get me under contract because I plan to check every quarter to see if we can get Fibe 50/50 service here. Same cap. Slightly lower download rates, vastly higher upload rates. Opens the possibility of doing cloud backups etc. And it is 20 bucks cheaper.

Home Phone

Bye bye. I almost never use it, and the only people who call us are telemarketers, notably the evil air duct cleaning companies. If it were 20 bucks, I’d keep it in a heart beat. But Rogers insists on charging me 50 bucks a month for some unfathomable reason.


I want to reduce this. But as I documented in my last rant, I want to avoid losing HBO, Sportsnet One, and TSN2HD. We watch sports now and again and I really like HBO. See the last rant for reasons why Rogers has arranged these channels to pull many other packages and force people up to 100 bucks. It’s a rip off, but what isn’t in the Canadian media services market?

Besides … I am waiting for Fibe TV to come to my neighborhood. That service looks awesome.


And now … on with today’s show.

The first person I chat with seems to want to argue every point with me. Really annoying. But eventually I get her to understand that I want the $45 voice and data plan in order to modernize my plans and thus allow me to upgrade to the latest generation of phones. Turns out that $45 is not enough because it contains only a 100MB data plan. This is apparently not enough revenue for Rogers to subsidize the modern phones, even though they allowed me to get the first iPhone with no data plan at all.

But, as with all things, corporate entities must grow and the way to do that is to force customers to reach for a higher bar. Nowadays they want you spending 30 bucks on data alone if they can get you there.

Eventually she realizes that all my wireless numbers have corporate codes on them as I got them when I joined my current company back in 2003. Thus, she cannot touch them anyway. Sheesh.

Person 2 – The Business Unit

This was a very personable young woman who really knows her stuff. We went through the whole thing again, with me alternating between telling her what I want and me ranting. She took that very well and had no problem agreeing with many of my points, since they are all perfectly true.

At one point she mentions that my monthly commitment to Rogers is higher than her car payment. No surprise … since it is almost double mine as well (and my Mazda 3 is only a year old.)

So … we spend a long time laying out the goals I want to achieve and she says she fully understands. She decides that she will call customer relations and explain everything to them, thus saving me the pain of explaining it all a third time. She feels confident that a long time customer (1987) like me with a commitment this huge should be able to upgrade his phone for a reasonable plan cost.

I had been listening to silence while she was talking to customer relations, and suddenly I hear a burst of background music for a second, then a ringback. A fellow answers and asks for my name. I give it and he asks “how can I help you?”

Oh oh … this is not what was supposed to happen.

So I ask “are you customer relations?”


I say “I was just speaking with several people and the last one said she would call customer relations and discuss my situation and then transfer me.”

“She transferred you cold.”

I say “It’s been at least 10 minutes … did she speak with you at all?”

“No. How can I help you?”

I’m thinking … “you could go fuck yourself, for starters.”

But instead I say something like “I’ve been on the phone with Rogers for a long time and am too tired to go through this all over again. I‘ll have to call back.”

So … mark II ends as did mark I. Fuck!

So … it will cost me $200 to cancel my youngest’s phone. It will probably cost me something to drop the TV service, but not much since my commitment ends in September.

I’ll bet I can get the cancellation fees back pretty quickly with Bell, at least in free stuff like the free PVR they are offering.

So now what? Do I have to keep taking this shit?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Windows continues to command a huge lead with my readership …

IPower sends me stats on my site periodically showing clicks etc. Turns out that I am up over 100,000 pages views a month because I get almost 40,000 visits per month, each of which obviously clicks on several pictures per visit. And I serve up my images from my gallery on iPower. Highly recommended, by the way.


So anyway … you can see that Windows continues to maintain about 70% of the market, which is well down from the 96% hegemony they enjoyed a decade ago. But still very dominant. As we are entering the post-Jobs era, and as Linux never really made much noise as a desktop OS, I think these numbers have the potential to hold for a while yet.

But then the news on Windows 8 is not all that good. An awkward relationship between trhe desktop and Metro has the potential to finally destroy Microsoft’s hegemony in the desktop OS market. If Windows 8 is another Vista, and the timing is correct for that to be true, then Apple might enjoy a freebee …

Manfrotto 334B Monopod and Smith Victor BH2 Ball Head

I decided to start working on my shooting technique again. Stabilization has turned me a bit lazy and my keeper rate has dropped somewhat. That irks me. I like to be choosing from all sharp images, not trying to find the “sharpest” image of the bunch. That’s just annoying.

But I’ve had a monopod before and I did not like it at all. I had made the mistake of buying a super high quality Giottos, which really was a thing of beauty. But it weighed a ton and was very slow to adjust. This made it so awkward to use that I ended up shelving it after a couple of sessions. And I later sold it.

I have been eyeing the Manfrotto Neotec 685B, which is a single trigger adjustable monopod that is about as easy to use as it gets. Step on the little stand thingy, squeeze the trigger, and pull it up. But it is $200 for just the monopod and you still need the head. At the time the 334B did not exist, but this time I went looking and there it was.

The 334B is the little brother to 685b and is a simpler design. Which I prefer, by the way.

There is the familiar squeeze trigger at the top and it allows the top half of the monopod to be adjusted up and down. The bottom section can be twisted a half turn and pulled open to the desired length, then locked at that length while shooting. Since the trigger-adjusted section is about 2 feet long, it is an easy matter to get the bottom half just long enough to be useful at all required heights with the trigger only.

In other words, this is just about as convenient and it has fewer parts to break and is cheaper. A win in my book. I paid $92 at BHPhoto and my preliminary tests say that this thing works really well. I can get very sharp images at very low speeds on unstabilized lenses.

Of course, one must mount some form os attachment mechanism on the top. You could, of course, just screw your camera body directly to the top, but I don’t find it very common that I hold the monopod perfectly level, so to me this is not a useful option. The same reasoning says that mounting a quick release clamp directly to the monopod won’t cut it either.

So that leaves a ball head or a tilt head, which is monopod specific. I have tried the tilt head and do not like it. I like the full freedom of movement that you get from the ball head. So that’s what I went looking for.

Holy cow, are ball heads ever expensive! I didn’t want a micro, because I want to apply leverage to the pod and the head in order to lick in a super steady shot most of the time. That requires some strength. I looked on all the sites and prices for a decent low end ball head were quite high. So it was with some glee that I stumbled across the Smith-Victor BH2 ball head. I saw it as an arca compatible, medium duty ballhead that should be a perfect fit for this monopod.

And I was almost right.

Immediately upon mounting it onto the monopod (very easy, as their 3/8” mounting parts were a perfect match) I noticed that I could not top load any of my Arca plates. Oops. Turns out that this is Arca-like, not Arca-compatible. Grrr!

So my first inspiration was to install a spare Kirk clamp in place of the original SM clamp. This required removing the old clamp, which is held on by a sunken large headed screw. A screw should turn, right?

I took one of my many standard-sized hex keys and tried to loosen it. Not a great fit and no budging. Hmmm …

So I clamped the clamp itself into my workmate and gave it a try. I then tried it with a heavy duty drill and a matching attachment. The drill twisted in my arm. Eventually, the screw head basically stripped, rounding the internals. Very frustrating.

You can see the chewed up edges and the fragments of the screw that were torn out. No idea what they used to install that screw, but it is more than loctite.

So I gave up on that approach and decided to see what could be done about the original clamp.

There was one review where the comment was made “I had to remove the safety stop in order to use my other plates with this head. It is inconvenient, since it still won’t open wide enough to drop in from the top, but it works.

Good, I thought. So I too removed the pin.

But my Wimberley universal ball head still would no Ifit. It stuck about third of the way in. So I decided to go with Plan B.

I had already had the thumb screw’s little cover plate fall off, so I knew that there was a big screw head inside, to which I applied my heavy duty cordless drill from Ryobi. There was resistance; after all, the screw head only opens 1/4” and then stops. But it was unable to resist the power of this amazing drill and out it came. All the piece parts fell off as well.

It went back together very easily, and suddenly I had what I wanted Smile

But not for long. I was going to take the Tamron 500 with the Kenko 2x out for a walk in the woods to see what a telescope can do with nature, and as I tightened the thumb screw, I noticed it turning longer than it should. Of course, I realized right away that the soft metal had stripped. *sigh*

Is it just me, or is this thing the spitting image of Johnny 5 Smile


Anyway, you can see from my image that there is much dust and softness to the threads that I created when I undid the screw in the first place. This sucker is done for.

Having now destroyed the clamp, the only thing for it is to again turn my attention to removing the clamp. Since the screw is rounded inside, My only hope was to clamp the ball as tightly as possible and then clamp the remaining chunk of clamp tightly into my workmate and twist with both hands.

And that’s the name of that tune. The incredibly cheap plastic bushing that holds the ball into the head (as opposed to doing some decent machining) has been broken loose and now follows the ball head with any twist, which means that even if I could get it fixed, it has no convenience left and the stability is now completely compromised.

So I paid $44usd for an Arca-like quick release plate that has a non-standard (flat head) mounting screw. Whoopee …

So what should I have really done?

That one is simple … what I should have done from the get go was to attach the spare Kirk clamp to the quick release plate of the Smith Victor and then just used attached the SM QR plate permanently. Now I have an Arca compatible moinopod with a very nice ball head.

Of course, with all the soft metal and plastic in that ball head, it would have failed pretty quickly anyway. This ball head is for extremely light usage for people who don’t mind locking into a completely non-standard plate system. Most enthusiasts will want to give it a wide berth.

And what will my next ball head be for this experiment?

The Joby BH2-01EN ball head. We’ll see how that works out. It is supposed to be Arca-compatible, which makes far more sense than the Smith Victor approach.

Joby BH2-01EN Ballhead X for Joby Focus Flexible Tripod

Update: Well, that was a bust. The Joby was cheap … too cheap. All I received was an extra plate. Sheesh. Henrys took it back no problem (although the store would not cover the shipping, which was perfectly fair.)

So … plan C. I asked at Henrys if they had any decent but cheap ball heads. No. But they had the Manfrotto 234 monopod head that tilts in one direction. So I caved and bought it … which is probably what I should have done in the first place.

I find it cumbersome in two ways: The adjuster is actually a wing nut with only two prongs, so is often awkward for a quick adjustment. Second, I have to hold the monopod perfectly vertical to get a straight horizon. This is much more cumbersome than you might imagine.

So … the grand experiment fizzles. It works, but not smoothly enough for me to be in love with it. Great monopod, crappy head. *sigh* …

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Another trip around the sun for me and my boys and I enjoy a bowl of Laksa.

fuji f550exr  800iso  f/3.5  1/5  4.4mm  (24mm EFL)

My favorite soup, over Pho and the Mennonite chicken soup.

A little perspective … will there be a global extinction event within the next 20 to 40 years?

Sounds like science fiction, fantasy, or a wing-nut conspiracy theory, right?

Well, perhaps … but read this paper and you tell me whether these guys are just wing-nuts. Doesn’t read like that to me.

Thanks go to Peter Croft, my friend from Perth Australia, for pointing out the article on his blog. Fascinating reading. I can’t find myself getting terribly worried about it because it will target everyone if it really happens, and no one gets to plan for that or duck out of it.


The warning about extinction is stark. It is remarkable that global scientists had not anticipated a giant buildup of  methane in the atmosphere when it had been so clearly predicted 10 to 20 years ago and has been shown to be critically linked to extinction events in the geological record (Kennett et al. 2003). Furthermore all the experiments should have already been done to determine which geoengineering methods were the most effective in oxidising/destroying the methane in the atmosphere in case it should ever build up to a concentration where it posed a threat to humanity. Those methods need to be applied immediately if there is any faint hope of  reducing the catastrophic heating effects of the fast building atmospheric methane concentration.


The stupidity of mankind is killing our children …

I have written before about the resurgence of Whooping Cough, a bacterial disease for which we’ve had a perfectly good vaccine for ages. But the inherent laziness and stupidity of mankind has seen significant numbers of people withhold these vaccines from their children.

So last year, a disease that had been virtually wiped out in the west, has surged forward in the US, Canada and Europe.


A few quotes …

There have been more than 18,000 cases of whooping cough reported in the United States so far this year, and nine deaths. Winter, when respiratory illnesses hit hardest, is yet to come, so they will likely far surpass the record 40,000 cases back in ’59.

That’s how fast the world goes to hell when too many people stop thinking and governments are too scared or too lazy to enforce basic public health policy. Since it is occurring all over the west, this is clearly a universal failing.

Well-meaning parents are shunning vaccination in small but significant numbers because of imaginary fears largely concocted by quacks and charlatans. In doing so, they are giving almost-forgotten diseases the ability to resurface and cause real harm.

I disagree. Such parents are not well-meaning. They are stupid. Plain and simple. There are some vaccines you should be careful with … the flu shot for example. But even those have been safe for years and years. Pertussis has been safe for decades!

In some cases, it can lead to pneumonia, convulsions, brain damage and death. One in every 200 young children who is infected with pertussis dies; all of them suffer.

The tragedy in all this is that the adults who have been making these stupid decisions are not the ones who suffer. It is the kids, as always.

Whooping cough remains a major cause of death globally, killing more than 300,000 children each year.

Obviously, the stats quoted here are for the west, which vanquish this disease by the 60s. The rest of the world loses hundreds of thousands of children per year. A strange choice when there is definitely money out there. One wonders, though, why we feel we have to repeat it. Even in cases of religious belief, public health policy must always win.

But in Canada, like in all developed countries (and many developing ones), we vaccinate kids. They get pertussis vaccine, along with diphtheria and tetanus, a combo known as DTaP (we will explain the little “a” in a minute) at two, four, six and 18 months, and then again at ages 4-6 and 14-16.

Babies like Harper Whitehead are too young to be vaccinated. They depend on others to do so. Universal vaccination creates what is called herd immunity, making it difficult for bacteria like pertussis to circulate and infect the vulnerable, like babies, the frail elderly and those with weakened immune systems.

And here is the kicker. Even people who vaccinate their kids can lose a child that is too young to be vaccinated because of the stupidity in their community. Herd immunity is the whole point when eradicating a killer.

I’m just so disgusted with the lack of critical thought so aptly demonstrated in this example …

Folks … this is but one scourge that has returned due to a small group of short-sighted, muddled-thinking people … I am 100% sure that I have offended some of my readers, and for that I do not apologize. Because if you are choosing to not vaccinate your kids, then you bear shared responsible for future deaths caused by damages to our herd immunity.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Saturn and the Moon with the Tamron 500mm BBAR Mirror Lens

I’ve been chomping at the bit, waiting for clear skies. And tonight we finally got them when the moon and Saturn were both up. They set by midnight, so you have to be really on the ball to get a slice of time with quality skies.

I started with Saturn since it was much further west and dropping fast. I had the Tamron 500mm Mirror BBAR on its own tripod mount on the Feisol tripod with Markins head. I added the Kenko 300 2x teleconverter onto it and then the Nikon D7000. This combination has proven to be surprisingly sharp on macro detail. Micro detail is a little less impressive. But wait and see … I was a bit surprised at the outcome.

Remember … this combination is fixed at f/16 (f8 with 2 stops light loss) … that makes focusing difficult. But here is the fun part … the magnification of this combination is so high at 1500mm (longer than the 1325mm Celestron NexStar 4 SE Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope) that, at full live view magnification Saturn traverses the LCD’s field of view in about 20 seconds. It is stunning to actually watch celestial bodies moving on the back of your camera :-)  Jon came out when I was shooting the moon and was completely blown away at watching craters go by … it felt a little surreal seeing that for the first time.

So anyway … slow lens with manual focus that is not assisted by quality focusers as are telescopes. This was me twisting the lens back and forth and guessing if it was good enough.

And without further ado … Saturn.

Nikon d7000 + tamron 500mm bbar + kenko 2x tc
800iso  f/16 (effective)  1/4  1000mm (1500mm EFL)

Ok, that’s a tad underwhelming. I’ve shown some more impressive shots from the HS25 for example. However, that camera auto focused using contrast detect, which is far better than I can do. And I increased that magnification considerably, whereas this is a straight 100% crop. And you have to admit, that’s a big Saturn on the sensor. In fact, I was able to see the rings in the view finder for the first time. That was very cool :-)

And now, beelaba moonaba …

I shot it several times, but in two configurations. One with the Kenko, and one without. Normally, it is a wash between the two as the Kenko adds sufficient blur to bring the quality down. But tonight it is decidedly the opposite. Of course, it could easily be that I had a bad seeing moment, where the air disturbed the shot. That happens, and I certainly did not shoot enough images to really be safe from that.

Anyway … the shot with just the Tamron …

nikon d7000 + tamron 500mm BBAR  100iso  f/8  1/160  500mm (750mm EFL)

And now with the Kenko …

nikon d7000 + tamron 500mm bbar + kenko 2x tc  100iso  f/16  1/125  1000mm (1500mm efl)

The previous shot makes my eyes see very subtle blur while this shot is perfectly clear wit wonderful acuity for a hacked together cheap telescope :-)

Click on the image to see the Apennine mountains in all their glory. I remain pretty stunned by how good this shot really is.

So … an $80 used mirror lens and a used Kenko 2x teleconverter gave me a great night of shooting our solar system. I missed a chance at Mars, but perhaps tomorrow …

Rogers – Another rant … and this time I mean it :-)

Warning: bad language in a few spots. I’m serious. If you are going to whine about that, I’d rather you just skipped this post.

I pay Rogers for 3 wireless phones, one home phone, Ultimate internet service, and their highest digital TV level of service. There are plenty of people who pay less for their share of rent and food than I pay Rogers for the right to be insulted three or four times a year. They profoundly disappoint me too often. Today, I am more disgusted than disappointed.

But first, some back story.

Sometime in the last 6 months, I stepped up to an empty Rogers counter (rare enough that you should always talk to them, even if it is about nothing) and asked casually how much it would cost me to upgrade to an iPhone 4? He told me $159 or thereabouts. I said “cool!” and asked him to check my eligibility. He asked if I had data and I said “yes”, to which he replied “you are eligible.”

So I said “let’s do it” …

After quite some time he said “hmmmm … you don’t have the right data plan.” I left very angry because Rogers sold me a $15/month data plan for a lousy 150MB a month (of which I use about 10% per month) and it does not qualify as a “data plan” … so one wonders what I am paying for then?

Fast forward to a month or so ago. I noticed that Rogers had a very good deal on a PVR that you could get for free just by committing to a 3 year plan. No “cannot be a subscriber” restriction, just “cannot be under contract.” Since I am quite satisfied with Rogers’ technology, and since I had not renewed my TV for a long time, I called.

And guess what? They disqualified me because by giving me a few retention deals, I had been technically put back under contract. I think I blogged that one because I was really pissed off.

And then there is today. I have been considering a hardware upgrade for a year. My phone has been repaired several times and it is so old (original 3G iPhone) that it cannot run iOS 5, nor can it run many new applications that interest me. It is also getting slower with time, which pretty much has to be some sort of conspiracy to force people off their older phones lol.

The new Galaxy IIIs really appeals to me. And breaking the Apple hegemony is a good thing in this marketplace. Good for competition and good for those of us who think iTunes is pure concentrated evil.

So I have gone into Rogers three times in the last week, trying to get this done. First time, the computers were down. They could talk about it, but not do it. (That’s what she said, goes the joke.)

Second time, there was a lineup a mile long and I was not about to dedicate 2 hours to this task.

Today, free and clear and I stepped right up. Note that I had forgotten about my pariah data plan, so to make a long story short, we ended up right back there. With any other data plan, I get the $159 phone price and Rogers locks me in for 3 years. And I am a good customer!

But no … I need to add another $15 to my bill, either by upping my data plan, or lumping it all in to the new $60 super data plan, which is not that super since I still need to add $12 for caller ID and voice mail. So the $72 super plan would take care of that. Since I pay about $50 right now, Rogers are telling me that I need to increase my monthly commitment by almost 50% in order to be allowed to get a new phone at the price everyone else pays. They wanted $599 otherwise.

So in conclusion, fuck!

Here’s the real conclusion. I am in the process yet one more time of reevaluating our services. I am not getting nearly enough from them for the privilege of being treated like the ugly stepchild. And I am very tired of it.

Our watching habits have changed over the years … quite profoundly, actually. Bell has better Internet plans. They are choosing to service new condos with Fibe TV before my neighborhood, so I would have to temporarily use their mediocre satellite service. Home phone I can just dump. Who cares. Ours was switched off for 6 months and no one noticed. 

Note that reducing our Rogers TV bill is not much of an option, because they only offer Rogers Sportsnet One at the $72 level or above. It is not available a la carte. That should be illegal!

So just maybe … I can say goodbye to Rogers this time? Let’s see how I do …

Update: It gets better. There are actually three popular and high-value channels that are mandatory for us – Sportsnet One, HBO and TSN2HD. As mentioned above, you need to be at the VIP level for $72 per month to get Sportsnet One because it is not available a la carte on any of the lesser plans. HBO, it turns out, has been lumped in with the TMN movie packages for an additional $21+ .. WTF? And TSN2 is available only in the $10 “HD Specialty Pack” … or you can get the HD VIP level at $82 for that channel … same thing.

Smile -- Has there ever been a more blatant example of forcing people to upgrade to get one good channel? If I could order these three channels a la carte, my TV bill could be at the second tier plus10 or 20 bucks total … perhaps $60. Instead I am forced to pay 72 + 10 + 21 = $103 … wow. It is no accident at all that these three high value channels are positioned that way. It should be illegal, but the CRTC must be washing their telephones again while this goes on.

By way of example, some of you might remember when Capitol One made fun of Banks and their outrageous and blatant money grubbing with fees using the following commercial. Of course, the Canadian cell and data networks make the banks look thrifty with customers’ money :-)

Tamron 500mm SP Adaptall F8 Mirror Lens BBAR – is it a keeper?

I have been hungering for a long lens for some time now, going through all the possibilities that my very low budget could handle. It did not help that I smashed my camera and 70-300VR to smithereens (ok, slight exaggeration on the camera’s part) but it did help when Nikon fixed up the camera for no charge.

So I replaced my 70-300VR, which arrived today and is superb. But that’s not the kind of reach I mean. I wanted 400 or 500 mm in a format that could accept a teleconverter. That means a reasonably sharp prime.

And so I found the Tamron mirror lenses … widely regarded to be the best lenses of their type on the used market and certainly not expensive. KEH happened to have two of them, both under $100usd … which I thought was a pretty good deal. One was the B model and one the BB model, which is the newer model with the updated optics.

So I hemmed and hawed until the BB model was gone and finally just pulled the trigger on the B model. There have been pretty good reports on that one too. It is supposedly better at distance while the BB model is better close up. I figured a moon shooting hound like me would be well served by it.

And so it arrived a few days ago. And lo, and behold, it was the BB model. Go figure.

Now, the very first thing it did when I mounted it with the adaptall AIS mount I had purchased at the same time was break …


I’m not kidding. Here’s a fairly crappy close up by the X-S1.

Fuji x-s1  1600iso  f/3.2  1/8

That piece freaked me out when it fell off just as I tilted the camera down to adjust something in the menus. I called KEH and they authorized me to return it, which I still might do. I’ve read about the lenses delaminating (not sure that’s quite the right word) on these things, and since this part already separated I can only wonder.

But … I realized after a while that the hood contains the final element and so I separated the two and pulled out the offending part. Then I put it back together and went shooting.

A couple of more images of the camera and lens. Note that I am using the camera’s plate for tripod mounting in these images, but when I took it shooting, I put a plate on the lens and sot that way. More stable.

So how does it shoot? Well, the f/8 aperture is a PITA in two ways – no flexibility for exposure, and a really dark viewfinder. Makes live view almost completely unusable. But not quite …

It is not the very sharpest lens I’ve seen, but it is pretty sharp when focus is near perfect. This image shot at 2000iso from 10 feet in a fairly dark room at 1/5s. The depth of field is razer thin from this distance, so focus is a very narrow band on the check mark.

nikon d7000 + tamron 500mm BBar  2000iso  f/8  1/5  500mm  (750mm EFL)

I shot the X-S1, which was sitting about 10 feet away and this time I remembered to knock ISO down to 100. SHooting from tripod, after all …

nikon d7000 + tamron 500mm bbar  100iso  f/8  20s

Note two things: excellent detail, and strange bokeh. Mirror lenses are famous for their donut-shaeped highlights in out of focus areas. You can see a couple of those here. I don’t mind it though … it’s kind of cool.

Outside, I shot a few images at 500mm in bright light. This is where I noticed that live view was a non-starter in the sun. Too little contrast and the image coming through was too dark.

But focusing in the view finder is easy enough in good light, so I got a few nice shots.

nikon d7000 + tamron 500mm BBAR  400iso  f/8  1/800 

More funky bokeh here …

nikon d7000 + tamron 500mm bbar  400iso  f/8  1/250

Only a thin band of the chair’s weave is in focus along the left edge.

Several hundred feet away is my neighbour’s chimney …

That evening, I put on the Kenko 2x teleconverter to see what it could really do. I had in mind shooting of the moon and Saturn.

But first I took a few shots in the house. And wow! The reach and sharpness took my breath away. This battery is sitting at least 10 feet from me in its charging cradle. You can barely see that there is any writing on it at all, yet it resolves with incredible clarity …

So I head outside and am shocked to discover that it has completely clouded over. Waaaaaa!

I needed my fix of shooting this combination, so I shot it at 1600 ISO at things across the street from me. Like this shot, which is a neighbour’s license plate about 50 to 80 feet from where I am sitting. I’ve erased enough of it to protect anonymity.

nikon d7000 + tamron 500mm bbar  1600iso  f/8  2s

That image was fairly tough as I found that the image was very dim in the viewfinder. I had to use the little specular on the Ford badge as my focus guide. And it worked like a charm!

Even further away was the same neighbour’s garage, which has a pair of lanterns on it. Since I was shooting 1500mm of EFL, I was unable to get more than one lantern in the image. White balance correction really made the colours funky :-)

But note the clarity with which you can see the bulbs inside the lantern.

In the other direction, I shot the lantern on another neighbour’s front porch. Here you can see some strange coloration after white balance correction, along with some lens flare. Can’t really expect a funky lens to be perfect with the kind of high contrast image, so what the heck.

Three more shots complete my testing so far. The ubiquitous daisy image, which has surprisingly crisp edges on the upper and lower flowers. The middle one is outside the band of focus. This one is, I believe, shot at 500mm.

Then there are these two images, shot at 500mm through two panes of slightly dirty glass in a hurry. The camera was still set at 1600 ISO from another session and I forgot to change it. So with a long lens hand held at f/8 on a dull day through glass I high ISO, I could not expect much. What I got was surprisingly not sucky :-)

I spotted this little Cardinal under a chair, seemingly playing with something. It picked up this thing and flew across the pool to land on the far edge. I started shooting and even filmed it for a few moments. When I got the images onto the computer, I was a bit surprised to see that it was an enormous caterpillar …. yuck …

A little less cropped.

Now, note the clarity of its eye and the “food” … this lens has a lot of potential. So I think I’m going to keep it and have some fun with it. It will be especially productive once the monopod arrives. Can’t wait …

And now the video. The camera was shaking something horrible … so I ran Sony Vegas’s stabilization, which crops and tries to get everything in the same place. Obviously, there are a lot of transitions between “scenes” that don’t perfectly line up. But it is passable. It is very short, so watch to the end for the real gross out :-)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Nikon 70-300VR – Replacement arrived today …

They ship extremely fast. One day, basically.

This new one feels quite different from the previous iteration. The zoom frip feels much more rubbery, and the texture on the hood is very rough. I like it Smile

fuji F200EXR  400iso  f/3.3  1/7

It has a real heft that feels great in the hand. The VR on this copy has a noticeable click when it engages. I also don’t remember that from the previous copy. Five or six years certainly sees small design changes ….

So how does it shoot? Well, I’m really impressed with the sharpness … even at 300mm, its weakest focal length.

First shot ever with the new lens … followed by several. The light today was awful with heavy overcast. Nice enough for saturation etc, but requiring of quite a bit of ISO …

nikon D7000 + 70-300VR  640iso  f/4.8  1/500  116mm (174mm EFL)

nikon d7000 + 70-300VR  1600iso  f/8  1/800  200mm  (300mm EFL)

nikon d7000 + 70-300VR  640iso  f/8  1/160  300mm  (450mm EFL)

That last one is really stunning. Those razer sharp edges are really there, it is not a trick of sharpening. The last time I remember getting a daisy so incredibly “etched” like that, I was shooting with the Sigma 105mm macro lens.

nikon d7000 + 70-300VR  640iso  f/8  1/125  145mm  (218mm EFL)

Next, I wandered out front to catch a couple of images of Nick reading something on his Mac.

nikon d7000 + 70-300VR  640iso  f/8  1/30  116mm  (174mm EFL)

nikon d7000 + 70-300VR  640iso  f/8  1/20(!)  195EFL  (293mm EFL)

So I’m really glad that I did not talk myself out of getting another one of these lenses Smile

Disparity, how do I love thee?

Canadians have long felt put upon by the disparity in prices between Canada and the US for the same items from the same manufacturers. But it is doubly annoying when it is the same company that screws us just because of where we live.

Case in point – the Lexar Professional 16GB SDHC UHS-1 card, which runs at 400x speeds or about 60MB/s. Very impressive. And the price on Amazon.com is very reasonable at a mere $23.21.


But what about Amazon.ca?


Yeah … around 150% more. And yes, I did notice that this is an item from someone other than Amazon, but let’s face it … when I buy from the Amazon web site, I expect at least a passing attempt at parity.

Anyway, I ordered the one from the US. With shipping (which I pay either way) and import fees, I’m still miles ahead.

It’s why we all flock south of the border to shop …

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A little chink in the Apple armor …


The title of that article tells it all …


It goes on, so click through.

The issue is that the iPhone missed its growth target. In fact it whiffed completely. And the other products appear to have taken a beating too.

So what’s the problem?

Well, I’m not sure but I’ll render an opinion for you.

Steve Jobs is gone. The company is now in the hands of a bog-standard executive who no doubt is dynamite at spinning the baloney in front of the analysts, but it is the public that responds to leadership. Steve was the man and the public bought in in droves.

Not so much any more … the lukewarm iPhone 4s is one example of the issue. They gave up a rather long lead to Samsung and the remarkable Galaxy IIIs. Of course, they could come roaring back with the iPhone 5 (or “The New iPhone” if the want to repeat that moronic brain fart.) They could match and exceed the specs of the Galaxy. They could enhace Siri so that it knows what you want before you want it (searching for patterns of course) … they could do a lot of things.

But then iTunes remains basically a POS, if a dominant one. And Apple software is probably going to get worse without Steve’s forceful leadership. So I think we are in for some really interesting times.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Portable gas stoves can do INCREDIBLE damage!

Danger of Portable Gas Stoves

Thanks to my friend Petra in Holland for pointing out this article. The potential (if rare) danger of these stoves is documented in it for all to see and judge the risks.

Read the referenced article if you regularly use a portable gas stove at the table. At the least, make sure that you are using a reputable design, but you might want to switch to an electric model as has the author of that article and his family and friends.

Atrocious accident that should never happen to anyone. It seems entirely predictable that the people who built it and sold it have run like cowards ...

Monday, July 23, 2012

D7000 – The return …

For those who are new, I dropped my D7000 from 6 feet on its back and destroyed a lens and thought I had destroyed the body.

This morning I read a note from Nikon acknowledging my request to get the 70-300VR at a discount and suggesting that the D7000 body was almost finished. They said they would contact me when it was done to arrange payment.

So imagine my surprise when the body arrived just before 3pm by FedEx. Smile

It looks great. Everything is straight and the AF works very well. Much better than before. Laser accurate with my AFS 18-200VR. The battery door is still gouged, but they cleaned that up so it is harder to see. And the best part …

No charge.

That’s right, they tuned up the camera and made their adjustments and the bill came back as zero. So unless they have a surprise waiting for me, and the bill is wrong, they were very good to me and to my camera. Things feel a little tighter all around, the AF is dead on, and there is new firmware in it. So all in all I cannot describe how pleased I am at how this turned out.

But here is the best part … I had already allocated the cash for the repair and the lens replacement, so I sent a note to them to switch over to the discounted 80-200 2.8, a much better lens for low light shooting (to which I am rather addicted.) For distance, I can add the excellent Tamron 1.4x teleconverter to get to 280mm at f/4, which is one stop faster than the 70-300 at 300mm. Of course, I give up VR, but that is a small price to pay for the image quality that the 80-200 is capable of. And of course my birthday is 3 days from now, so this is the ultimate gift to myself :-)

Now … images. The X-S1 took a couple of decent flash images of the body after repairs:

fuji x-s1  800iso  f/5.6  1/3  -1.67ev (oops)

Nice and straight. It was bent completely out of shape, if you remember. http://letkeman.net/Photos/albums/fujixs1/DSCF7641_X_S1_19_mm_ISO_3200_1_9_sec_at_f_3_6.jpg

Note the fabulous Wimberly P5 Universal Body Plate. This thing rocks for 50 bucks. Portable to any body you buy in the future. I used to buy L-Brackets for every body, but that’s just too expensive. Here’s a review: http://www.the-digital-picture.com/Reviews/Wimberley-P5-Camera-Plate-Review.aspx

The battery door has deep gouges, but I frankly like it. Gives the camera character. And it serves to remind me to avoid brain farts like the one that damaged it in the first place.

So how well does it work? The following images are shot with an SB800 flash in my left hand as a remote to the commander on the D7000. The excellent 50mm 1.8D lens is attached and set to f/2.2. ISO is 400 and shutter speed is 1/250. Strangely, metering is set to center-weighted. Not quite sure why.

Nick and Jon as Nick is back after a week long trip to Nova Scotia. Nick is practicing various songs that he and Ben played at a pub in Dartmouth, N.S. last Tuesday. The gig went well and they plan to continue here in Ottawa.

And one shot of the garden … late evening after a wicked storm that knocked power out twice this afternoon. Things are looking pretty lush …

So ... it works. And very well. I’m pretty pleased with the result.