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2011 pocket camera vs. 2017 iPhone 8 Plus

While working on some photos this weekend, I noticed that I’d taken two nearly-identical photos of the Enola Gay at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center—nearly identical, but separated by four years:

Click once for larger, then click the icon in the upper right of the pop-up for largest vesrion.

The left image was taken in 2014 with a 2011 Pansonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 pocket camera (specifications); the right image was taken in 2018 with my 2017 iPhone 8 Plus. (Interesting to note that I didn’t bring my DSLR on either trip…the best camera is the one you have with you, right?)

Neither of the above images has been edited, beyond whatever algorithms the cameras use when saving the photo. Frankly, I was amazed at just how much better the iPhone 8 Plus photo is compared to the one from the Lumix: The Lumix photo is skewed heavily blue, edges aren’t well defined, and detail in shadow areas is obscured. The iPhone’s image is perhaps just a bit towards the yellow end of the spectrum, but it’s miles better than that of the Lumix.

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When good cables go bad

Last Thursday, my daughter and I left to run a few errands. We weren’t gone all that long, but when we got back, we found that the microwaves had lost their time setting, and the fridge’s alarm light was blinking—signs of a power outage. In addition, the internet was offline, which was a bit odd. (My computers and the router/switch are on battery backups, and they didn’t show any signs of having rebooted while we were out.)

I fixed all the clocks, and then power cycled the router and the internet came back. But not for long—a few minutes later, it vanished again. I pulled the WAN cable from the router, waited a few seconds, and connected it again. This time, the net stayed with us for a couple hours. Then it vanished again. I repeated the process, and we had net again…for a while. This continued through the day—sometimes we’d have connectivity for hours, sometimes for minutes—until I got frustrated enough to troubleshoot.

I took my laptop out to the Frontier FIOS box on our garage wall, and connected directly to the FIOS box. I started some large downloads along with a streaming movie, and let them run for an hour or so: No problem. This seemed to point to a cable issue.

Our FIOS box is connected to a long Ethernet cable (red line in the image at right) that runs around the semi-L-shaped house, then under the house, and finally enters the office, where it ends in a wall jack. A shorter cable then goes to the router; I replaced that one first, but we were still getting dropouts. Sadly, that meant the long cable appeared to be damaged.

To test this, I made a long-but-direct cable and ran it from the FIOS box, across the driveway, and through the front door then into my office—definitely not a long term solution, as I had to choose between network connectivity and a locking front door! But using this temporary cable, we didn’t have any outages at all the rest of the day.

Thursday evening, I made a much longer cable, hung it on our Christmas hook lights over the garage, and then around the front of the house (just lying on the ground) to the office—just so we could have both a locking front door and internet connectivity. This line worked fine all day Friday, verifying that the old line was having issues.

Thus, my weekend activity was set…ugh.

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Review: Olala 10,000mAh Power Bank

For those not aware, I have something of an addiction to portable power packs—with two kids and who knows how many devices, it seems someone somewhere is always out of power.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been testing an addition to our stable of such products: Olala’s $32 10,000mAh Power Bank.1I received the Power Bank at a greatly reduced cost, but my review is based solely on its performance and my impressions of its build quality.

This shiny piano black unit looks great (though that shiny finish is a fingerprint magnet), and its smooth surface means it easily slides into a pocket in a backpack. Four blue LEDs let you know how much juice you have left. Unlike some battery packs, this one is Apple MFi Certified, meaning Olala has gone through the necessary steps to certify that their device meets Apple’s standards. (You can search for MFi certified devices in case you’re ever curious about a given accessory developer.)

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Solving a wavy issue with a Sony 4K Blu-ray player

We’ve had our 4K Vizio M70-C3 TV for about 2.5 years, but we just added a Sony UBP-X800 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player last October. We have a few 4K movies, plus what we watch on the Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video. Stuff mostly looks great, but when watching The Martian the other day, I noticed this odd “wave” effect in the background, whenever the camera panned across a scene. I wrote it off as a one-time thing, until yesterday.

I was trying to watch the extras (which are in 1080p) on the new Black Panther 4K disc, and I noticed the exact same problem. This time I filmed a bit of it with my phone:

Needless to say, this makes it really hard to watch anything—it’s not only distracting, I actually start feeling queasy after a while. After testing a bunch of settings in both the TV and the Sony player, I found the cause: The Sony player’s 4K upscaling. With it disabled, everything looks normal. Turn it on, and any 1080p content gets wavy when panning. Problem solved!

But what about The Martian, which was 4K to begin with, but still had the waves? That was, ummmm, most likely user error: I must have loaded the non-4K disc in the player, as when I tested it yesterday with the 4K disc, everything was fine. Oops!

I have no idea if I have a defective player, or if it’s a limitation on the upscaling, or if it’s just a strange issue between the Sony player and the Vizio TV. Regardless, if you happen to have a similar setup and are seeing annoying waves when the camera pans, try disabling the 4K upscaling feature.

Fujitsu ScanSnap software and the 64-bit-only future

A fair number of my apps are still 32-bit—see how many you still have—though many I don’t really care about all that much. But there’s one suite of apps that I use every day, usually multiple times a day: Fujitsu’s ScanSnap apps. This is the software bundled with the ScanSnap ix500 scanner.

While Fujitsu has been good about updating their software in the past, I was a bit concerned about the upcoming 64-bit transition. So I both tweeted at them and sent them an email. I haven’t seen a reply on Twitter, but a (clearly form letter) reply to my email is at least somewhat encouraging:

There is no problem in the behavior of the application or the OS concerned. The message is only inform that the application needs to be modified for compatibility with next-generation macOS (which should be available near the end of the year). PFU is going to resolve this, but the resolution date is not set yet. In the meantime, please continue using the latest version of the software available.

This blurb was obviously prepared as a response to those complaining about the new 32-bit warning dialog in macOS 10.13.4, but it does seem to address the longer-term question: Fujitsu is planning to “resolve this,” which hopefully implies 64-bit versions are in our future, though at some not-yet-disclosed date.

There are very few things in my workflow that I couldn’t replace…but replacing my ScanSnap and everything it does for me would be quite difficult. Hopefully we’ll see a 64-bit ScanSnap suite before this fall’s deadline.

6,399 reasons why I haven’t yet replaced my iMac

My main machine is a late 2014 27″ iMac with a 4GHz Core i7 CPU, 24GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD (plus a big external RAID for most of my files). While it runs fine, I would like something with Thunderbolt 3 support, with faster graphics for X-Plane, and with more computing power for ripping Blu-Ray discs. It’s also beyond AppleCare age, and if something fails, it will be expensive and time consuming to repair.

When the iMac Pro came out, I was intrigued, but the price point is scary high and there was the “new new” Mac Pro on the horizon—potentially a cheaper alternative, given the display wouldn’t have to be bundled (and upgradeability is a good thing). I was hoping for an update on that machine at WWDC this June. Instead, we got the update much earlier, though it’s not was I was hoping to hear: The new new Mac Pro won’t be released in 2018.

As a result, if I want to replace my iMac this year, I have only two choices: A new iMac non-pro, or a new iMac Pro. (In theory, I could look at a MacBook Pro with an eGPU for graphics, but I despise the Touch Bar, and that’s the only way to get the highest-spec MacBook Pro. But I really want a desktop Mac, not a laptop-as-desktop Mac.)

So just what would I be getting for my money with either machine? And how do those machines compare with the Frankenmac homebuilt I put together last year? And perhaps more intriguingly, how do they compare with the 2013 “new” Mac Pro that Apple still sells today?

To answer those questions, I turned to the Geekbench 4 benchmark app, which includes both CPU and graphics (they call it Compute) benchmark tools.

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When castles were dark and pixels were black and white

Recently, while browsing Michael Tsai’s blog, I came across a link to a chapter from The Secret History of Mac Gaming, a book by Richard Moss.

This particular chapter dealt with the making of Dark Castle, one of the earliest Mac video games. It’s a pretty amazing tale of life in the early days of home computing. For example, on the founding of the company that released Dark Castle:

Not one to be discouraged, Jackson withdrew most of his life savings, bought a Lisa, signed up for the Apple developer program, and founded the company Silicon Beach Software in mid-1984. He then met with seventeen-year-old Jonathan Gay and made a deal. Gay wouldn’t get any money up front, but he’d get royalties on sales of a Macintosh game that he’d program on weekends.

Reading the chapter brought back memories of playing both Dark Castle and its more-aggravating successor, Beyond Dark Castle. These side-scrolling platformers were fun, frustrating, and rewarding—a great mix for video games of any era. I wondered if it was possible to play them today, 30-plus years later…and of course, it was.

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Review: Olala SG1 Bluetooth earbuds

Recently, Olala sent me a set of their SG1 Bluetooth wireless earbuds to review.1I received the SG1s for free, but my review is based solely on their performance and my impressions of their build quality. While I listen to music in a number of ways, none of them currently include wireless earbuds, so I was interested in seeing how the SG1s performed. These earbuds are also very reasonably priced—only $32 at Amazon as I write this today.

And for that $32, you get a very complete setup: The earbuds on about a two-foot cable, three sizes of ear cushions, a complete (though tiny) instruction manual, a shirt clip, a cable separator, and a leather-look carrying case.

(Also included, but not shown in the photo, is a USB charging cable.)

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My initial impressions after briefly using the iPhone X

No, I didn’t buy one. (Though I could have; the nearby Apple store has had them in stock each day.) But I did spend about 20 minutes playing with one, just to compare it to my 8 Plus. Here then are my thoughts after that extensive hands-on period…

The Good Stuff
  • The screen is lovely (most of the time; see below). Very high pixel density makes for incredibly crisp text, and the OLED tech means blacks are black, and colors in images look stunning.

  • The 120Hz sample rate on the touchscreen makes for very snappy interactions.

  • Compared to my 8 Plus, the narrower iPhone X feels nicely sized in my hand.

  • I don’t think it would take too long to get used to the gesture-based interface; I already find myself wishing that the “short drag up” to activate the app switcher worked on my iPhone 8 Plus.

  • Face ID is very easy to set up, much more so than Touch ID. (The store phones have a demo setup so you can see how it works and test it, but not really apply it as you would on your own iPhone.)

There’s more, of course, but they’re things that apply to the iPhone 8/8 Plus, too: The glass design feels good in the hand, much improved cameras, speedy CPU, etc. The X has all of that, though with an even better camera, thanks to stabilization on the zoom lens, too.

So much for the good…

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Sony MDR-100ABN wireless noise cancelling headphones

Almost exactly two years ago, I bought my first pair of Bluetooth headphones—Sentey Bluetooth headphones which were amazingly cheap and worked quite well. They worked great, right up until the charging port broke and I could find no way to fix it—this was about two months ago. Not bad for $50.

When it came time to replace them, I wasn’t quite sure what to get—I didn’t want to spend a lot on headphones. But while browsing Costco, I came across the Sony MDR-100ABN noise canceling wireless headphones, set up in a “try before you buy” display.

I tried them on, and found them comfortable—and the sound was quite good to my ear. I also checked the Amazon reviews, which were quite positive. The Costco price (login required) was $200, anywhere from $29 to $148 cheaper than on Amazon. (Why the broad range? Costco only sells the black colored headphones; Amazon has all the colors Sony offers, and they range from $229 to $348.)

So I splurged and bought them. And I’m glad I did—these are not only great wireless headphones, they’re great headphones in general. Here’s why I really like these headphones…

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