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My thoughts on the new Apple Watch, Apple TV, and iPhones…

In their September 2017 keynote, Apple launched the Apple Watch Series 3, the Apple TV 4K HDR, and three new iPhones—the 8 and the 8 Plus, and the X.

Here are my quick thoughts on each, and my buying plans…

Apple Watch Series 3

This is a nice evolution of the watch. The LTE doesn’t really interest me, as I’m sure it’ll require another $5 or $10 a month to my wireless carrier, and I almost always want my phone with me. (If I swam regularly, I might feel differently about that.) The much-faster CPU would be a nice upgrade over my original-generation watch, but the Series 3 is nearly a full millimeter thicker than the original…and honestly, I think the first version was already borderline too thick.

Will I buy? At this time, the outlook is doubtful; my watch is working fine, and a faster CPU isn’t worth the added thickness and $359 of my money.

Apple TV 4K HDR

Support for 4K is welcome, and long overdue. I’m not so sure about HDR; sometimes I find HDR images tend to look artificial, and I don’t know if I’d find the same issue in moving images. A real added bonus was Apple’s decision to provide the 4K version of movies you’ve purchased for free—this from a company that charged us to upgrade the quality of our music files a few years back.

I wish Apple wasn’t so damn set on streaming everything, though—I would much prefer to store movies directly on the device, to make it more portable and not subject to the vagaries of wifi, device positioning, and network load. Those times are gone, though, so now the only choice is whether or not to spend $20 more for the 64GB version.

Will I buy? Yes, and I’ll spend the extra $20 for the extra 32GB. I’ve been moving an Xbox One back and forth from the game TV to our 4K TV to watch 4K content, so this will be a simpler solution.

iPhone 8 and 8 Plus and iPhone X

Let me get this out of the way: I do not like the iPhone X. Well, that’s not true. I think almost all of it is absolutely stunning, and I really want one. Unfortunately, that’s “almost all,” and there are two things that aren’t perfect that will keep me from buying this phone…

The Notch. I absolutely, positively hate the cutout at the top of the phone for the sensors. In case you (somehow) missed it, this is the notch…

I would have much preferred if Apple just blacked out that entire region, giving up that marginally-usable pixel space for a cleaner appearance. I understand that videos can play cropped, so as to not be “notched,” but it’s the presence of the notch in other normal views that really gets to me. It’s everywhere.

Many people won’t notice, or won’t care about the notch. I wish I could be one of those people, but I can’t. During the keynote, all I could focus on whenever the phone appeared was the stupid notch. It simply grabs my eye, and I cannot unsee it when it’s there. (Maybe a future software update will stop drawing the desktop up there, which would make it look much nicer to my eye.)

Face ID. Apple has told us facial recognition is more secure, and I have no reason to doubt them. They also told us it’s fast, and it seemed to be in the demo. But secure and fast can’t override the absolute convenience of Touch ID. I can use Touch ID as I remove my phone from my pocket (press plus press-click), and it’s ready to go as soon as it’s out of my pocket. I don’t have to look at my phone unless I want to; if I have to look at my phone every time I want to unlock it, that’s going to get annoying. Very quickly.

Apple Pay is even worse. Today’s system is as near-magic as any tech I’ve ever used: Hold the phone near the register, rest finger on the home button, and you’re done. With Face ID, it appears (based on the demo in the keynote), I’ll have to both double-tap the side button and look at the phone to use Apple Pay. Ugh.

There are also some security considerations with Face ID, as pointed out by Ian Schray. The police cannot compel you to put your finger on your phone without a warrant…but can they compel you to simply look at your phone?

Other than these two no-go items, I really like everything else about the iPhone X. It’s only marginally larger (.20 inches taller, .15 inches wider) than an iPhone 7, yet has a screen that’s 30% larger and has more pixels than the gigantic Plus model phones. It also has the double cameras, which I would love to have on my next phone.

While you may not consider the notch and Face ID as deal breakers, they really are for me. I’ll go look at one in person, of course, but I simply cannot unsee the notch, and I hate the idea of having to look at my phone to unlock it, and taking more steps (and time) for Apple Pay.

So that leaves me with the 8/8 Plus versus my current 7. I think the new CPU, faster Apple-developed GPU, better cameras and sensors, 240fps slow-mo 1080p video, wireless charging, and the glass design make the iPhone 8 a compelling upgrade. As noted, I’d love to have the dual cameras to work with, but I think the Plus-size phone is just too big for daily use, so I think that’s out of the question. (I will visit the Apple Store again to see the 7 Plus before I decide for sure.)

Will I buy? As of now, yes, I plan on buying an iPhone 8, and hoping that…somehow…Touch ID survives for a long time to come, lest that iPhone 8 be my last new iPhone.

The Art of the Brick at OMSI

We recently toured Nathan Sawaya’s The Art of the Brick at OMSI, our local science museum. I had heard about this show, and seen pictures, but they don’t do it justice…so here, look at some of my pictures which also won’t do it justice. [View on Flickr]

Part of the reason photos don’t do the ehxibit justice is the lack of sense of scale—further accentuated in my photos due to the lack of reference points. Most of these things are quite large; the human figures are all life size (or bigger). The Easter Island head is maybe 8′ tall, the Whistler’s Mother figure is six or so feet long, etc. Each piece has a descriptive card that includes the total number of Lego pieces used. As you’d expect, it’s a lot of Lego!

If you’re in the Portland area—or The Art of the Brick is coming to your town—I highly recommend a visit. You don’t even have to like Legos; the art is just amazing…even without considering it’s made of Lego bricks.

Like a kid in a candy store…

Back in January, I spent a morning at the Portland International Auto Show, walking around looking at a huge assortment of new cars and trucks, and even a couple of campers.

As the title says, for me, short of actually buying a new car, that was peak fun. I love everything about cars, and walking around a car show is about as good as it gets: All the new cars, none of the sales pressure of a dealer visit! Here are some of the better shots from the morning’s virtual shopping trip. [View on Flickr]

Of the vehicles we saw, the Acura NSX and the BMW i8 were both very striking looking—much more so in person than in photographs. And I think the Audi RS7, especially in all-black, is one of the meanest-looking cars to come along in a long time. Now I just need to come up with the $7.5 million or so it’d take to buy all the cars on my wish list!

The above album is hosted on Flickr and displayed here via a plug-in; read on if you’re interested in how I did that…

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Review: Canmore G-Porter GP-102+ data logger

I recently bought a new big-size camera, bucking the trend of simply using one’s iPhone for photographs. That’s not to say I don’t use my iPhone; it is my main picture taking device. But I wanted a camera that could capture native retina iMac images (at least 5120×2880), and the iPhone can’t do that.

After much looking and sweating over the costs, I chose a Nikon D5500, mainly because I already had a Nikon and didn’t really want to replace all my lenses. While this is an excellent camera, it was a bit of a budget compromise—it didn’t have all the features I really wanted. In particular, it lacks a built-in GPS to geocode all the pictures I take.

As a workaround, I decided to buy a GPS data logger, which is just a small GPS receiver that records GPS coordinates at some interval. Toss the logger in your pocket (make sure it’s on and receiving the GPS signals first!), then go take pictures as you normally do. When you return, you can use an app like HoudahGeo to sync the recorded GPS track with the timestamps on each photo. (I’ll have more to say about this whole sync process in a future post.) Presto, instant geocoded images!

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Looking for a camera recommendation

I’m looking for some help from the camera experts out there for my next camera. At present, I own an aging Nikon D40x, which I generally love except, well, it’s bulky as heck, only shoots 10MP, and is getting quite old. So I want to replace it with something else, with these constraints:

  • Resolution of at least 5120×2880, the native resolution of the 5K iMac.
  • Smaller and lighter than my Nikon, so I think that means APS-C or Micro 4/3rds sensor size.
  • Weatherproof, so I can shoot outside in Oregon in the winter rains.
  • Total cost for the camera plus a base lens and a zoom lens in the $750 to $1500 range.

In my research, I’ve only really found one camera that actually meets all my criteria, that being the Panasonic DMC-GX8. It’s weatherproof (and shoots 4K video), and I could get the camera and a couple lenses for right around $1500. However, it just barely makes the resolution limit, at 5184×3888, leaving not much extra room for cropping.

Reviews have also noted that it’s quite large for a mirrorless camera, and that’s what I’m trying to get away from.

The Sony a6000 is a near-fit, as its 6000×4000 resolution easily meets my needs, but it’s not waterproof. It is, however, smaller and lighter than the Panasonic, and has a faster burst mode. Compared to the GX8, it only shoots 1080p video. But it would also be somewhat less expensive, I think, with a couple lenses. (The camera body is much cheaper, but Sony’s lenses seem much more expensive.)

Sony is also launching the a6300 in early March. According to this comparison article, it’s got a number of nice improvements, such as 4K video recording, a weather-sealed magnesium-construction body, many more autofocus points for fast autofocus, and a much better viewfinder.

However, this camera is about $500 more than the a6000, which means I’d be close to the budget limit after adding a zoom lens.

I’ve visited Digital Photography Review to read reviews, and to compare the samples for the A6000 and GX8 … but I’m still no closer to a decision.

I welcome any advice from those with experience in these cameras, and/or more information on image quality comparisons and lenses. At present, I’m leaning to the a6300, even though it’s quite a bit more money. It meets all my criteria, has the fastest burst rate, shoots 4K video, and is smaller and lighter than the GX8. But is there something else I should be looking at instead?

Retina lollipops

A candy store at the local mall had the most amazing wall of colorful lollipops, and I thought it’d make a wild desktop image for a retina iMac. As I snapped the pic on my iPhone, it took a bit of upscaling to reach 5120×2880, but I think it still looks fine; here’s a small-scale version:

I also thought a tunnelized version would be interesting; here’s how that came out:

I have these in my normal “rotate random every 15 minutes” cycle, and still get a kick out of the lollipops when they get chosen.

A unique lava lamp time-lapse

We occasionally take our kids to a local place, Big Al’s, which is one of those bowling/arcade places that give out tickets as rewards from the arcade games. Being good parents, we too sometimes play the games (you know, to spend time with the kids…yea, that’s it). Over the years, we amassed quite a bunch of tickets, but weren’t quite sure what to spend them on.

The last time we were there, I was smitten by a lava lamp, similar to this one, but ours has a black base and blue “lava.” I don’t know why (childhood flashback?), but I decided some of our points cache would go to this mesmerizing but otherwise useless device.

When I got it home, I was surprised at just how long it takes to warm up: It can take nearly an hour before any “lava” starts flowing, and about two hours before it really looks like a traditional lava lamp. During the first hour, though, the melting wax in the lamp makes some really cool abstract bits of art, as seen in the photo at right.

I thought this might make a neat time lapse, so I set out to record it with the iPhone. My first attempt failed, due to the iPhone’s auto-adjusting time-lapse feature. Because the lamp takes so long to get going, the gap between frames winds up being quite long. Long enough that when stuff does start happening, the iPhone’s time-lapse gaps are too wide to make for an interesting video.

I needed another solution, so I headed to the iOS App Store to see what was available…

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Cheap fireworks in slow-mo are oddly compelling

I’ll be out of town on the Fourth of July, so the kids and I did our little fireworks celebration last night. This being Oregon, we stuck to what we could legally buy, which basically means nothing that can fly or explode. For grins, I set up my iPhone on a tripod, and shot some of the fireworks in slow-mo mode. The result was much better than I was anticipating…

That’s about a minute’s worth of one of the larger fireworks. You can download that one (1280×720, 96MB), or if you want, download the full seven-minute version. Be aware: If you’re on a metered connection, the big version will set you back 671MB!

Send your Retina iMac’s desktop to deep space

Last week, I used the just-released Hubble Space Telescope images of the Andromeda galaxy to create a couple of desktop images for my Retina iMac. I liked the results so much that I spent some time collecting other suitable images from the Hubble site, and then cropping and/or scaling them to create interesting high-res desktop images. (I used Acorn for all the edits; it had no troubles, even with TIF images as large as 20,323×16,259!)

The end result is a collection of 50+ Retina iMac-sized (5120×2880) desktop wallpapers, courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope. Here’s the full collection:

Tip: If you click on the caption below the image, you’ll be taken to the source page on the Hubble telescope site where I found the image.

There are at least two versions of nearly every image—one or more where I cropped out an interesting area of the photo at 5120×2880, and one where I scaled down and then cropped as needed to get as much of the full image as possible.

There are three ways to get an image (or all the images):

Method One: One at a time

  1. Command-click on the image (anywhere other than on the navigation arrows) you’d like to download. This will create a new background tab (in Safari, Chrome, and Firefox, at least), loaded with that image’s high-resolution page on my Box cloud drive.
  2. At the top right of the page you’ll see a big Download box/link; click it to save the file to your Mac.
  3. Repeat for each image you want, and then organize as you wish, and set them up as rotating desktop images.

Method Two: Another way to get one at a time

Open the full folder on Box, and browse/download directly from there. Click on any image, then click the large Download box/link to download the selected image to your Mac.

Method Three: Gimme the full set!

If you want all 54 images, just download this zip archive from Dropbox (300MB). Expand on your Mac, then look through and keep the ones you want. If the Dropbox link isn’t working, try this one on OneDrive.

Images courtesy of NASA/ESA, and full image credits can be found on the linked image page for each image reproduced above.

It’s snowing…in slow motion!

It’s just started snowing here in central Oregon, so I shot a bit of slow motion snowfall. The end result is very oddly mesmerizing (open the video in a new window to see it at full size):

The snow looks like some fake Hollywood effect when seen in slow motion. But hey, it’s falling, it’s sticking, and the kids may get a white Christmas after all!

I hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday…I’m outta here to go play in the snow!

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