Sunday, January 8, 2012

Temporary blog out

I shall not be blogging for the next 4 weeks, as I will not have proper access to a computer. I might be able to type a short blog now and then on my Android phone, but the thought of writing on a small touch keypad is not my idea of blogging.


M-Audio Fast Track to prove a theory

I have a theory that anybody who can hold a tune and sing to correct key can sound great if the singing is properly recorded.

I have just bought myself an M-Audio Fast Track Audio Controller*. It is basically an amplifier with separate controls for microphone and guitar input. The learning curve for the recording and mixing software is steep, but thank goodness, there seems to be a lot of helpful tutorials on the Youtube. So far I have only managed to install the software and successfully recorded a short audio clip with my voice and guitar. Once I have the works sorted out, I shall do a test recording to see if my theory is right.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What I think of Windows 8 tablet

Windows 8 is coming to tablets. Acer and Lenovo have just announced plans to launch a Windows 8 tablet in Q3 2012. Back in Mircrosoft's heydays the competition would have trembled at the onslaught of the Microsoft juggernaut. These days, such an announcement comes with hardly a whimper.

Windows 8 to a tablet is what Phone 7 is to the mobile phone. The likelihood of success is slim. But hey, Microsoft has lots of cash to burn; yours and mine. Their stranglehold on the PC is still very strong. They can dictate the toll we pay into the Microsoft coffer, directly or indirectly, for the PC is still the workhorse running practically every business on the planet.

Rantings out of the way now, here is why I think Windows 8 is not going to make it, even with Bluestacks promising to make Windows run apps just like we are all accustomed to. The simple reason is battery life and apps performance. My guess is that Windows 8 is going to be much more CPU- and memory- intensive to run than Android or IOS. That is going to drive cost up. Power consumption is going to be high; battery life and overheating will be hot issues; literally. Finally, Android tablets running on the same CPU and RAM resources will probably outperform a Windows 8 tablet by a mile. This is my dire prediction for the fate of Windows 8 tablet.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Picplz; an online photo journal

An online album like Picasa or Flickr provides a good way for photo takers to publish their work. However, while these are great for sharing pictures, there are now better ways to manage your collection of photos taken with a mobile phone.

Back then it was Phlog for me. After a picture was taken, I had to email the picture as an attachment to the designated website. This process is archaic now. Today, I looked at two whiz-bang online albums for photo journalling and I am really thrilled to say that they are very GOOD.

There may be other good ones out there, but due to limited time I want to spend on this, I picked Picplz and Lightbox to look at in detail. Without signing up for an account, I looked at what a casual visitor to the website might experience. I prefer Picplz to Lightbox, although I must say both are almost equally good in feature-to-feature comparison. Lightbox tries to give you a good selection of lovely images with a "Featured Users" list plus a listing of featured images that seem to be taken by seasoned photographers using expensive gear rather than the new breed of mobile phone shooters. Picplz has a more honest-to-goodness approach. The images are all from the mobile phone and it even tells you what phone was used (done automatically when an image is uploaded). If you like, you can select which city you want to narrow down your viewing to. That's a clever way to show a living documentary of what is happening around the world. Thus I signed up for an account with Picplz.

Once I started using it, Picplz only gets better, showing how much thought has been put into designing the app. Yes, you only need to download the Picplz app into your phone to start using it. When launched, I can use any camera app I like (I have several choices of camera on my phone). Once a picture is taken, I can immediately save it to Picplz, Dropbox, and Facebook, all with one click on the "save" button. Or you can choose to publish only to Picplz.

I can also upload any picture belatedly from my phone. Simply open up the picture and click on Share>Picplz. Or, I can upload it via the Picplz website. Doing it the latter way, one can cheat by using a proper camera to shoot and then publish on Picplz. However, I don't think many people will do that. Besides, it shows up right away if a phone is not identified with the image.

If you own a smartphone, you really must instal Picplz. You will want to take more pictures after this. Take a look at their website and see if you like it too:

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Budget camera under AUD$200

A friend of mine asked me to recommend a point-and-shoot camera. I admit I am biased when it comes to photography things. Photography is not an exact science, so there is no "best this" or "best that".

I believe that all digital cameras these days are capable enough for normal shooting, so the choice is not about getting a "good" (i.e. capable) camera. A very basic entry-level point-and-shoot should be able to shoot without any annoying shutter lag, can expose accurately, and can focus without a fuss.

To cut to the chase, I would be very happy to carry with me the very basic Canon Powershot A1200 on any holiday trip. It costs ~AUD$100. It has a traditional camera grip body to make room for two AA batteries, hence it is not super thin. This type of camera body is much better for handheld shooting than a thin 1cm-2cm body. It has a 1/2.3" sensor that shoots12 megapixel. It has 4x optical zoom, with a decent 28mm wide lens and F/2.8 maximum aperture.The LCD screen is 2.7", 230,000 pixels; certainly adequate. It shoots 1280x720 Mepg4 video with mono sound. The specs are definitely good enough, if not good.

If size is important and you want your camera to be as small as possible, the Canon Powershot A2200 is a good choice. It is a close sibling of the A1200 and has almost identical specs. It costs AUD$96 at The Good Guys.

For something higher up in specs, but with same portability, the Canon Ixus 220 can be acquired for AUD$198 at Harvey Norman. The sensor size is the same, but the newer BSI-CMOS sensor is supposedly 60% better in reducing noise at high ISO. It records full HD video with stereo sound, shoots at up to 8fps, and has wider lens; 24mm instead of 28mm. It can also shoot slow motion video and has a few other shooting effects to whet your palate for creative photography.

In my opinion, most people do not need anything more than the above unless you have an interest in photography as a hobby. Features like super high speed shooting at up to 100fps (Casio) is not something you do all the time. Sweeping panorama (Sony) are not something you would print together with the rest of your holiday snaps. HDR, done well, looks impressive, but they are not what you would shoot at a social event. Somebody is always coming up with something new, but the needs of basic photography hasn't really changed much. Good composition, good exposure, capturing the mood, etc...... you don't need to bust your piggy bank for that.