January 2008

New Nikon lenses

Of the three new lenses Nikon announced today, I will almost certainly be buying the AF-S f/2.8 60mm macro lens just as soon as I can lay my hands on one. A macro lens is a must-have for reptile photography; a macro lens that will autofocus on a D40 (or, for that matter, the new D60, which was also announced today and which also lacks autofocus motors) is a must-have for me. The only other AF-S macro lens Nikon offered prior to this is the 105mm f/2.8 VR, which is much more expensive than this new lens, which lists at US$549 and which presumably will replace Nikon’s current 60mm macro lens, which is AF-only and won’t autofocus on a D40. Believe me, you want autofocus when you’re trying to take pictures of small snakes.

The MacBook Air is like an enormous fish


Computerworld’s Michael DeAgonia isn’t the first tech pundit to compare the new MacBook Air to the ill-fated Cube — small, stylish and expensive. Though unlike others, who assert that the Air is like the Cube and is therefore doomed, DeAgonia takes pains to say that the comparison isn’t necessarily apt.

Me, I think the Cube comparison is wrong: paying a premium for a laptop that sacrifices performance and cost for size is not the same as paying a premium for a desktop that sacrifices performance and cost for style. A better comparison might be the iPod mini: at the time, people couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t pay $50 more to get three or four times the storage; yet, despite the high cost per megabyte, the mini (and its successor, the nano) became the best-selling iPod model by far. Small matters when you’re dealing with something portable.

Willing to sacrifice cost and performance for size? MacBook Air. Size and cost for performance? MacBook Pro. Size and performance for cost? MacBook. Cluster headaches? Laptop running Vista.

What the Macworld keynote means to me personally

  1. Time Capsule: I just bought a hard drive for backup purposes, so there is no immediate need for it. However, this is a really compelling product at a really compelling price, so I may get one once I get a laptop (which would benefit from wireless backup) or other Mac with 802.11n wireless. Otherwise, we’re fine for now.
  2. Software updates for the iPhone and the iPod touch: Still no iPhone in Canada. I was just saying the other day that I’d buy an iPod touch immediately if it came with an e-mail and mapping application, and now it does. I still have an underused 30-gigabyte, fifth-generation iPod, so there’s no immediate need for a new one, but the possibilities of it as a PDA/mobile Internet device are intriguing.
  3. Software updates and a price cut for the Apple TV: We don’t have a high-definition television, and Apple’s rental service isn’t in Canada yet. Despite interesting Flickr integration, I don’t need this thing.
  4. MacBook Air: Reason not the need; WANT. I anticipate buying a laptop this year, and wanted something small and light, enough so that I’ve been considering the Asus Eee and its ilk. But while the MacBook Air is thinner and lighter than a basic MacBook, it’s just as long and wide — the X/Y is essentially the same. It’s clearly meant as a secondary machine; I’m just thinking that it’s easier to contemplate a $1250 secondary machine than a $1900 secondary machine. Still, WANT.

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DreamHost’s billing error

Yes, I got caught up in DreamHost’s stupid billing error situation (follow-up posts here and here). Fortunately, they only overbilled me by $230 — my monthly hosting bill is, shall we say, not large — though others were dinged for much more. They’ve since reversed the charge and are even doing something to address the differences in exchange rates between the initial billing error and the refund.

As I said about DreamHost in the inevitable MetaFilter thread, “They fuck up a lot — sometimes too often — but they fuck up in plain view, and they’re honest about it. I’ve never had a problem that they didn’t fix, rather than pretend it wasn’t there. That’s worth something.” In case you were wondering why I’m still hosting with them, it’s because they don’t hide behind a wall of corporate PR bullshit. I like that their mistakes are honest mistakes.

iPod stolen — and returned

What Jennifer didn’t mention in her post about our new washer and dryer — indeed, what she really couldn’t mention until the situation was resolved — was that one of the delivery guys helped himself to her iPod during their job. Don’t worry: we got it back, and I believe that charges are going to be laid.

Figuring out what had happened was trivial. Between the time that Jennifer last used it (when we were preparing the basement for the machines’ arrival) and the time we noticed it missing, the delivery guys were the only other people in the house. They were the only plausible suspects: both it and they were in the kitchen. And yet I had a hard time believing it was possible: someone couldn’t be that dumb to swipe something. It’s not like something like that going missing wouldn’t be noticed.

Apparently, someone was that dumb.

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Meade lawsuit settled

The lawsuit against Meade has been settled. Meade’s “Advanced Ritchey-Chrétien” telescopes — the LX200R and RCX400 series — aren’t actually Ritchey-Chrétiens. A Ritchey-Chrétien telescope is a form of Cassegrain reflector that uses hyperbolic mirrors to eliminate coma; these telescopes are modified Schmidt-Cassegrain catadioptrics that achieve the same effect. Ritchey-Chrétiens are also insanely expensive, so a couple of companies who manufacture them sued Meade for deceptive trade practices — Meade’s scopes are considerably cheaper than the real thing. As part of the settlement, Meade can’t use the RC initials in its products, but can continue to claim “Ritchey-Chrétien-like” benefits, since the scopes in question do eliminate coma, and are by all accounts impressive enough, reliability issues notwithstanding.

Update, Jan. 24: More from Sky and Telescope’s news blog, including new names for the contested telescopes, which will now have an “ACF” (“advanced coma free”) suffix.

Gizmodo’s prank

Gizmodo’s prank at CES was wonderful: they walked around with a TV-B-Gone turning off televisions at display booths and even during presentations. Many of Gizmodo’s commenter’s aren’t happy about it, but I’m delighted. In too many fields, journalists (including bloggers) are too damn close and cozy with their subjects, because their subjects are also their advertisers. It’s always a good sign to see someone willing to bite the hand that purportedly feeds them. Ostensible displays of independence are always appreciated.

Update: Banned!

Update #2: The point is not to suck up to the consumer electronics industry; if it takes a dumb prank to signal that you’re not completely servile to the industry you cover, so be it.

Update #3: Gizmodo in its own defence:

[W]hen I see some fellow press damning us for the joke, I feel sorry for them: When did journalists become the protectors of corporations? When did this industry, defined by pranksters like Woz, get so serious and in-the-pocket of big business? … Consumer electronics tech journalism is very tricky. Those who strictly cover commercial CE depend on a powerful handful of companies for the very lifeblood of their content. That’s a dangerous position. …
Many of our harshest critics have done far worse than clicking off a few TVs. I’m talking about ethical lapses such as accepting paid junkets to Japan by Nikon, or free trips to Korea by Samsung. Turning a blind eye to Apple’s mistakes when they didn’t make an iPhone SDK and sought to lock down the handset. Stock prices torn downward by publishing incorrect leaked info. Writing about companies that also pay you for advertorial podcast work. All of these examples are offenses from the last year. And I consider those offenses far worse than our prank, because it ultimately it puts the perpetrators on the wrong team. As one reporter put it while chiding me, “Journalists are guests in the houses of these companies.” Not first and foremost! We are the auditors of companies and their gadgets on behalf of the readers. In this job, integrity and independence is far more important than civil or corporate obedience.

Repeat after me: Journalism. Is. Adversarial.

MESSENGER and Mercury

The MESSENGER probe makes its first flyby of Mercury on Monday. The first probe to visit Mercury since Mariner 10 in 1974 and 1975, MESSENGER will make two more passes of the innermost planet before settling into orbit in 2011. What makes this probe particularly interesting is that it’ll map the half of Mercury that Mariner 10 missed — 33 years later, and we still don’t know what half the planet looks like. Here’s a good article from the Planetary Society.

Thom Sharp

A question. Since before your sun burned hot in space, and before your race was born — or at least since the early 1990s — I have had a question: Who was that guy in the Goodyear tires vs. tuneups ads? I’d also seen him in a guest role on The Golden Girls, but at no point did I ever have a name. Yeah. That guy.

Now I have a name — Thom Sharp — but not much information: IMDB, Muppet Wiki.

The trouble with vacations

I love to travel, but I don’t travel well. Stress and strange and uncomfortable beds increase my pain levels and, in turn, reduce my energy levels. I’m constantly tired. I forget to say please and thank you and all the other social niceties. I don’t move around very well. I don’t run around and do things as I should. It’s worse when I travel by road, which is annoying because I love road trips. All that time spent in the car and, if it’s a multiday trip, all those nights either in a tent or on hotel beds. The longer the trip, the worse it gets. Planes shorten the transit, so I may have to opt for plane travel rather than road travel. Either way, I’m sure to come down with at least a cold, usually the flu virus, and occasionally a norovirus. A vacation becomes something to survive, rather than something to enjoy.

Back at work tomorrow.

2007 in web traffic

All told, my sites got around 1.6 million pageviews in 2007, up a bit from the 1.3 million received in 2006. Not bad at all, considering that I wasn’t paying as much attention to them during the last five months of the year, what with the job and all.

How do those numbers break down by project?

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Looking back, looking forward

In many ways, 2007 was a trying year. The first quarter was spent dealing with cat problems and other issues, and I seem to have had some health and stress issues during the second quarter. But the second half of the year was spent back in the real workforce: stressful indeed, but a much more positive sort of stress.

Punching a clock and collecting a steady paycheque have been great for the finances, but my blogging and other projects have suffered. A lot of things planned for the past year simply haven’t happened yet, and my website income has been declining, month by month. (Even so, my website/freelance income was in line with my expectations for the year.)

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