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Retrospective 30 official photo (I am not with my camera to take photo of my bag).

This is a review of the ThinkTank Photo messenger bag: the Retrospective 30.

A small disclaimer: I am not a professional photographer, I have ties to ThinkTank Photo (personal and through the affiliate program) and I will be reviewing this bag primarily as a messenger bag, not a camera bag.

I received my Retrospective 30 in the pinestone material around the launch of the bag last year and have been using it daily ever since. Prior to the bag I used either a Timbuk2 bag or a Jandd backpack. Despite being told otherwise the bag fits my fifteen inch MacBook Pro in its neoprene sleeve without a problem. Granted this removed the nice squishy aspect of the bag but it does transform it into a stylish laptop bag.

The remaining space in the main compartment can various combinations of things. Usually I carry a book (trade paperback to large hardcovers) and a lunch (fruit and a sandwich). It can also fit a binder or notebook in addition to the book/lunch combo. There are inside pockets that fit miscellaneous things like pens, iPods, cables, chapstick, memory stick, small flashlight and lens cleaning cloth. Even though it is an open pocket (there is a velcro flap for the concerned) I have only had things spill out on one or two occasions.

On the outside of the main compartments are two large velcro pockets. For me I have one these constantly filled up by the custom fitted rain fly, a necessity in Seattle. The other pocket rotates between a laptop charge, random things for the day, a sandwich (in case the main pocket cannot contain a sandwich) or, if the mood arises, my Nikon D60 with a 50mm lens. They all fit well without making the bag feel too bulky. Though with all the pockets filled and a laptop it can get fairly hefty.

Speaking of heft, the main strap is nicely padded with grippies to prevent sliding. The pad itself slides but not very easily so it will remain in the set place when taking the bag on and off.

Oh, the main flap also velcros down onto the same large velcro pads as the big front pockets. However this is where a really neat feature of the bag comes into play. Each of the velcro strips has an additionally silencer strip. Essentially a complementary velcro section that can be put into place to prevent the velcro from making contact, effectively silencing the bag.

Personally, I use the the velcro for the main pockets in the front and use the silencer for the large main flap. The only time I velcro the main flap is when I am in a really crowded area such as Pike’s Place Market, a conference or a packed bus.

There is also a thin zippered pocket on the body side of the bag. For the first six months I thought this was a useless pocket with no real design purpose. Then when the rain season started again I had the rain fly on and realized that I could still access that pocket. This then became temporary book storage when scuttling from bus shelter to bus in the pouring rain.

On the sides are pockets presumably for water bottles or maybe cellphones. With the laptop always in there I am never able to use the pockets but I am sure they have a purpose. Right above the pockets are thick straps, the use for these on my bag is to hold a carabiner clip which then occasionally holds on umbrella or grocery bag when waiting for a bus.

Overall I really like this bag a lot more then my other bags and even better then my Streetwalker bag. If I am going someplace with camera gear it is in this bag, if I am going somewhere with a laptop it is in this bag, if I am going to work it is with this bag.

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Chrome for Mac Review

I heard that Google released a version of Chrome for OS X, as I have firmly been using Safari since it was first available I thought that maybe I could try something new (I just never liked Firefox).

There are some really neat features in Chrome however the current release is just not good enough.

First things that I like over Safari:

  • Themes. I like being able to have an overall darker look to the browser compared to the grey of Safari.
  • Pages do feel like they are loading faster.
  • It uses less memory on my laptop, this is an issue when handling large files in Matlab.
  • The status bar only appears when the mouse is hovering over a link.
  • Zooming in using Cmd + is handy and functions better then Safari.

Parts that are not good enough:

  • I cannot set bookmark folders to open all the contents when clicked.
  • When loading 18 new tabs simultaneously some fail to load.
  • Chrome does not open PDF’s nor does it support Java well.
  • While watching a flash video in full screen the mouse cursor is constantly moving up and down by one pixel.
  • Difficulty logging into sites such as slashdot.org and getting Chrome to remember the login.
  • Terrible history menu. Instead of getting my history I get Most Visited and Recently Closed, not where I have been.
  • Cannot drag URL’s from the URL bar into the bookmark bar.
  • Accessing the system Keychain works sometimes and rarely remembers choices.
  • There is no obvious way to change themes once one is set.
  • Once a file is downloaded the download bar remains until the window is closed.

I also thought that it would be easy to sync bookmarks between OS X and Windows 7 via Dropbox with Chrome but I have not gotten it to work (not saying it cannot be done, just that it is not obvious). I have not done this with Safari but I know it can be done with Firefox.

I wanted to like Chrome but it just disappoints and falls short of a pleasurable web browsing experience.

Maybe in a few releases it might be worth coming back.

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An scanned slide from a Imagelab FS5C05 35mm slide scanner.

An scanned slide from a Imagelab FS5C05 35mm slide scanner.

I received an Imagelab FS5C05 slide scanner in the mail earlier this week. Finally a chance to scan some of my family slides but first I should test it out before getting excited.

I opened it up carefully, plugged it in and got out one of the slide trays. Easy enough. I put a slide (that I have imaged before) into the machine, centered it and clicked the scan button. Fast, easy and not at all complicated. I took out the SD card (not provided) and put it in my laptop to take a look at the quality.

Well it is not so great. In fact it is just bad. Over saturated, noisy yet blurry, muddled and not even the full 35mm frame. While the slide fits into the scanning tray the device itself does not image the entire slide, rather just the center part (unless moved) and crops off the edges. It took a 3:2 image and reduced it to 4:3 image.

I returned it today and hope that the next one I try will work better and give better results.

Now I will admit there is a chance that this was a defective scanner, however I am not willing to try for another one. Especially since I would not be able to scan the full frame anyway.

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The LHC beam line leading to the ATLAS detector.

The LHC beam line leading to the ATLAS detector.

I watched Angels and Demons last night and could not get over the bad science. It came it two distinct varieties, the first is straight up bad or media-hyped style science the other is in the character of Vittoria, a CERN physicist. (There may be spoilers)

In the film there is concern  the LHC, when switched on, will create antimatter for the first time in the start up event (but not afterwards). This part hurt. Anti-matter, first proposed by Dirac in 1928 is created quite often in particle accelerators and hospitals.

The LHC had some typical science-movie computer interfaces though I was concerned with the part where people were walking in the tunnels as the collider was running. Personally I would not want to be in those tunnels during operation, the massive x-ray radiation generated would not be conducive to ones health, in any situation.

There are also some issues with the device used to hold the ant-matter but I will let that go as it is movie and necessary to the plot.

Then there is Vittoria the bio-entanglement physicist. I wish I knew what bio-entanglement research is or in particular how it links to energy companies, it must be a nascent field. Two comments she made in the film diverged to how a physicists (at least those I know) would really think.

First she said that she never thought that collecting a significant amount of antimatter could ever be used as a weapon. This is just wrong. Physicists realize that their work often leads to improvements in military technology, likely due to the military being a source of funding.

Finally there was the reference to the Higgs Boson. But she never said the word Higgs or boson, instead kept using God Particle. Something that is only done by the media or scientists talking to the media in an attempt to stop that particular nomenclature. I suppose that since this movie had a lot of religious themes in it the god particle seemed like a better choice. Still it hurts to hear it.

Eventually a big budget summer blockbuster film will consult with a few scientists while writing the script to get the science right.

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Watch the Watchmen

Edinburgh University School of Divinity.

Edinburgh University School of Divinity.

Until I heard the hype regarding the movie with articles discussing accuracy in regards to the book and even the science behind it I had not heard of Watchmen. Last night I went to see it in theaters without reading any of the reviews or even seeing a single trailer. All I knew about the film was from the introductory paragraphs from the Wikipedia article on the graphic novel as well as the plethora of article titles that are out there.

For those who have not heard of it is about an alternative history earth with comic book heroes. While following a murder plot amid threat of total global war between the USSR and USA an underlying theme is the exploration of the superhero.

I do not know how the original graphic novel version ended but I liked the ending and found it original in comparison to other recent superhero films. What I loved about the story was that the plot concluded; no open ended threads for a potentially endless slough of sequels.

My favorite part has to be the opening sequence that gives the backstory of the alternative USA from the 40’s to the 80’s.

The soundtrack to the movie is probably one of the strangest soundtracks given the content of the film, not to say it does not fit or even distract; it is just strange.

I would recommend going to watch Watchmen.

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Taken with my lovely camera phone, my camera being inside the bag.

Taken with my lovely camera phone, my camera being inside the bag.

I recently acquired a new Streetwalker photography backpack from Think Tank Photo. While I am not the target market of pro-level photographers I still feel that this backpack is perfect for a photographer like me.

Something I should mention about myself and this review: I do part time work for Think Tank and I am friends with a lot of the people working there. However I am not fully biased in their favor, I still think that my Jandd daypack and suitcase are the best bags ever.

Professional camera bags are designed for professional photographers and their needs and so most of the information available about a give bag is related to camera gear, airport specification and the like. Well I figure all of that information is readily available for the Streetwalker and since I am not a professional I decided to test the bag out for other uses.

As a footrest the bag is stiff enough to use when it is balanced upright. On the side it feels a bit too mushy and on the face I don’t want to be resting on my gear. Though I suppose if it was filled with other stuff moreso then camera gear and of the side would do as a foot rest. I would like to note that I am doing all these tests with the dividers in their original position. They could be rearranged to improve these unofficial uses.

A Streetwalker a poor pillow makes. While it is soft on the tapered part at the top of the bag the support is granted by the dividers and so the head is elevated a good six or seven inches above the floor. Unless you  like that of course. I will stick with a pair of shoes or a jacket as my make-shift pillow.

I would not recommend using it as a chair or stool in any circumstance.

The bag is a surprisingly good back rest. If non-valuables or stiff items are place at the very bottom of the bag and in the front pouches it works. Without any walls or stairs to lean against the back can be used to recline comfortably at at 45 degree angle or so. Good for sitting in lawns watching performances or perhaps gazing at the stars on a warm mellow night. The supple padding for the back really pays off in this regard.

For the exterior design of the bag those familiar with Think Tanks other offerings will notice a radical departure in style. This bag has a touch of bright blue highlights instead of the standard black on black with a little light black of previous bags. I like the slim accents of blue in contrast with the otherwise deep black of the bag.

So what fits inside? Camera gear is top of mind but we all knew that. Just go to the website to see cameras fitted inside in alternating configurations. What if you are thirsty? Or perhaps need a clean pair of underwear? How about a light paperback novel while you wait for the lighting to be just right? I tried what came to the top of my mind and this is what I found:

  • Spiral bound notebooks: one can fit very snugly but not easily. Scavenging alternative dividers could alleviate this but I truly hate sorting out dividers. All that velcro.
  • Lab sized notebooks: Two can fit with three pushing it. 
  • Water bottles: can fit one on each side, standard bottles, 27oz Klean Kanteens, Nalgene bottles, soda cans can zip inside the side pockets or fit inside the stretchy pockets.
  • A wine bottle can fit in the side as well.
  • In the inside divider spots I can fit two pairs of socks in one.
  • A rolled cotton t-shirt.
  • A pair of thin trousers folded and rolled can fit in a slot.
  • Three pairs of underwear
  • A Nintendo DS Lite can stand perfectly in the bag (so the interior is one Nintendo DS Lite high)
  • A Mass Market Paperback cannot stand up in the bag.
  • 15“ laptops definitely do not fit in this bag. Without or without dividers it is a no go.

Of course changing the internal dividers will open up space but then what if you need to quickly add in several lenses?

On the outside of the bag are a straps for a myriad number of unknown uses. A couple or for buckiling around the waist or across the chest, one is used to hold a tripod onto the bag (something I want to experiment with alter). One could be for holding a small shrub for camouflage in nature shoots. I guess a fishing pole could be fitted to the bag like a giant antenna. I guess an antenna could be fitted if you don’t want to leave your CV Radio at home.

What about wearing the bag?

The curved shoulder straps fit well when adjusted, they even fit well when not adjusted but I am not picky. They are narrow straps so the bag can be swung around in front without pinching or squishing of the self. When the bag is swung around in front, or mostly in front, it can be opened and about a half to a third of the items easily accessible. When holding the camera the space where it rides can be used as a makeshift stand to change lenses. 

The water bottle holder I mentioned before can be reached (assuming a basic flexibility) while the bag is normally worn and they can be put back. It is important to stay hydrated. And if you are too hydrated the Streetwalker does come with its very own rain cover so at least one of you stays dry.

Overall I highly recommend this bag. There are a few things I would like to change in it but by doing so I start to approach to larger Streetwalker Pro or Streetwalker Hard Drives which are too big for me needs. I just wish I could fit some letter sized spiral bound notebooks and maybe an actual book along with everything so I can go to class and have all of my gear. And the bag is a bit black for my tastes (I like blue or green bags).

If anyone wants to purchase a Streetwalker or any Think Tank product now or in the future I am an affiliate leader for Think Tank. This means that if my code is entered before purchasing a purchase of $50 or more will get you a free product (like a Lens Changer). My code is AP-213 and it can be entered on their website here. Before you start looking the bags do not sell at a discounted rate anywhere due to the policies of the company. So a free product along with the bag is closest one can get.

Now to see how the bag holds up to several months at school with me.

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Festive masks for the season.

Festive masks for the season.

 

A week ago I finally received my belated birthday gift (belated as it was not released yet) a LenBaby Composer. A Lensbaby is a prime camera lens that rotates in a ball socket, instead of having a plane of focus there is a movable spot (sweet spot). Because of the rotating and unusual focus it is a manual lens without a CPU. The lack of a CPU translates to manually setting the exposure (no exposure metering in the camera).

After a week I find that it is a fun lens. While certain subject appear dull with a normal lens my Lensbaby allows for a new take on the same subject. What’s more it brings out a higher degree of creativity. My particular lens is 50mm so aside from the unique ball socket and manual exposure it is the same as my loved f/1.8 50mm lens. Except that the Lensbaby has a maximum of f/2.0. 

Aside from finding the “sweet spot” choosing the aperture is also unique. Normally a lens has a small computer inside allowing for the lens aperture to be set by the camera or going furtyher back there is a ring to set the aperture. This lens has neither. Instead the aperture is set by physically changing out the aperture ring. The rings are made from a semi-soft magnetic material that is held above the lens by three magnets. The lens comes with a small tool that holds the rings with a magnet on the back switch them out.

This may seem like an inconvenience and it would be if you were shooting in continually changing lighting conditions or fast subjects. However I feel that for the most part this type of shooting is not the target of a Lensbaby. What it does allow is for custom apertures. The background blur of a photo is caused by the focus but the shape of the blur is determined by the aperture. That is why some lens produce certain pointed stars. Kits are sold allowing for custom made aperture disks, but I thought it can’t be that hard.

 

My simple aperture alteration tools.

My simple aperture alteration tools.

With tools at my disposal I took some post-it notes and a knife and jury-rigged some test apertures to see what would happen. Because I used purple notes that did not block all light a slight purple tint invaded my test photos. Here is how my purposefully out of focus Christmas tree came out:

 

First attempt.

First attempt.

A bit more creative second attempt.

A bit more creative second attempt.

 

So far I like the lens. I am not yet fully versed in how to use it, that will come with practice. I still find it funny that my lens acquisitions are in a way slowly regressing in ease of use. First I had autofocus VR lens, then a prime non-VR manual lens and now a Lensbaby that lacks exposure metering (with my camera at least). And yet it is the simple lens that are spending the time on my camera.

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Now it is most definitely winter.

Now it is most definitely winter.

Yesterday I fell upon a link to a MacHeist software giveaway. And I love free software.

By signing up you get free copies of Synergy and Enigmo 2. Synergy is an iTunes extender program that I did not really care about, Enigmo though is a casual puzzle games and I thought I would try it out.

First I downloaded and installed Synergy. Since it normally cost money I figured that there must be some inherent value to it, it also downloaded faster then Enigmo 2 so I had some time to kill. 

Turns out to be a useful little program. It is active as a preference pane and a background process (4% CPU (G4) when used and 20MB memory). When a song in iTunes changes a transparent display pops up listing the new song, artist and album artwork. The size, transparency, duration and location can all be changed. It also automatically sets some iTunes hotkeys. While these can be set through the normal preference panes (Keyboard -> Keyboard Shortcuts) I never thought about doing it before. It also adds three buttons in the menu bar for previous, next and play/pause. So far a simple and handy program.

Enigmo 2 is a 3D puzzle game with the goal of getting dripping beads, lasers or plasmas to their respective location through the use of drums, mirrors and other tools. It feels slightly reminiscent of Lemmings. While an entertaining game with moderate difficulty there is some major problems with it. It could be that I am using a trackpad but the camera controls are really bad. I may be spoiled from using the control schemes of programs like 3D Studio Max and Wings3D but I cannot get the hang of the controls. The second problem is the minimal preference settings. There are little options to change the camera controls and no settings to adjust music and sound (if you wanted to play your own music in the background). The last one is that if you want to play in a window it is limited to the default window size (about 800 x 600 I think).

Getting past these problems the game is fun, especially for the price of free. 

As the second part of the giveaway there are two more free programs that will be available Christmas day plus two more if you refer two friends. So on Christmas there can be a total of four more free programs.

I like this Christmas spirit.

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Sainte Chapelle in Paris.

Sainte Chapelle in Paris.

I received my fifty free photos from Shutterfly earlier this week including the one above of Sainte-Chapelle. The quality is very similar to the other two services, mainly because I am only getting prints sized at 4×6 instead of larger poster prints.

Unlike the photos from Snapfish all of the ones taken with my Olympus point and shoot were cropped down to fit the format while those from my Nikon D60 are already in the format. A plus though is that the photo name is printed on the back. The default name is the file name followed by the photo date. If desired this can be overwritten to something else. Below this one like is Ordered at Shutterfly.

The photos are printed on Fujifilm Crystal Archive paper instead of Kodak paper. I am sure there may be some difference in long term color retention or fading between the two but I do not have the means to test this.

As with Snapfish the photos can only be uploaded as non-RAW/TIF formats. I assume iPhoto also has this restriction but as it is integrated into the service this step is avoided. 

The delivery time was just one day later then the Snapfish photos and as they were fast so were these.

For both services there are many websites dedicated to coupons, a quick google search for Snapfish Coupons or Shutterfly Coupons leads to many sites with various discounts. There are not that many for iPhoto.

The first set from Shutterfly was completely free, even the shipping cost me nothing. So if you are wondering how your photos would turn out with the different services, try Shutterfly as it will cost you nothing except the bandwidth to upload the photos.

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An interesting design appeared in the bluffs.

An interesting design appeared in the bluffs.

I wanted to buy some prints of my photos because my photo only exist on my computer and I want to see what they look like on nice glossy paper. I looked into different ways to print and found that the cheapest and easiest way would be through iPhoto.

My first order was for about ten 5×7 photos. I placed the order and it shipped within a day or two. I then waited for two weeks for it to arrive. It never did. So I contacted Apple and they refunded the order without any disputes. Once the order was refunded I placed a second order, this time for 27 4×6 photos which came out to be the same price ($0.12 each). I hit submit and left as it uploaded.

A week later I went to close iPhoto and noticed that it froze during the upload so the order was not actually placed. I should have noticed that I did not get a confirmation e-mail from the other, but I was busy and did not. So I placed the order again and made sure that it transfered. This was two and a half weeks after my initial order.

During these weeks I looked into the cost of just buying myself some photo paper and printing it myself. Everytime I do though I see the price of the paper compared to the price of the prints from Kodak (through iPhoto) and decide to stay with iPhoto. 

Last Friday I finally received my prints. These arrived on Halloween and I placed the order on the Sunday before (so six days from order to receipt). Except for 3 they all turned out beautifully. Two had a lot of black in them coupled with high levels of noise which resulted in an odd patterning in the black sky, but this noise was in the original photo as well. Another photo came out a bit darker then I expected but still acceptable.

There was slight cropping done to some of the photos to get them to fit in the 4×6 format. I suppose if I cropped them first myself this could have been avoided. Also overall the color did not match that of my screen, for this I blame my lack of a fully calibrated screen. But that is why I wanted to print them out in the first place.

So it only took twenty-seven days from my first order to me holding my photos. Admittedly if it went smoothly the first time around it would have only taken six days.

For my next batch of photos I think I will try Snapfish as they offer twenty free prints for new users. Now I just need to get a fresh batch of photos.

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