Mice and Groups? The value of good translation!

After staying 5 days in the Blau Punta Reina Resort on Mallorca (see review here), I wanted to figure out where Blau is based (it is the German word for "blue" after all). While perusing the homepage wasn't that successful, I did find this in their menu bar:



I suppose "Mice & Groups" is better than "Mice in Groups"…

Going by the phone number at the top, I presume the company is based in Spain somewhere - or perhaps even directly on Mallorca. Which goes to show the advantage of having a native speaker go through the translation of your worldwide web presence…
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"Free" Internet at Brussels Airport

Ok, I've seen quite a number of airports in my life - and nowadays, most of them do offer free internet access via Wifi. Yes, there will be the obligatory "check here to agree to our terms" bit, but usually, you don't have to register with personal data in order to use Wifi.

Not so at Brussels BRU airport! They expect you to create an account, filled with lots of personal information, in order to get access:

BRU_Data_Wifi

That doesn't show what is above these fields - you also need to give them your mobile number so that they can text you a registration code… and yes, ALL of these fields are requirements.
I put in a bunch of crap, of course, but the system balked at the entered birthdate (in 2003) calling it "not valid"… what, a 13-year-old can't use this service?

Oh, lets have a look at the Terms of Use:

BRU_Terms_Wifi

Well that is very comprehensive… mind you, it doesn't matter wether you click on "Terms of Use" during registration or any of the links on the login screen:

BRU_Login

To put the icing on the cake, once I had everything entered and corrected, the system came back with:

BRU_Error

So needless to say, I gave up.
This airport rocks! Just like the city does!
And yes, that IS sarcasm…


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Review of Fujifilm X100T Camera

I'd first come across this camera - in the form of the very first edition - on a company sales kickoff in Budapest. A colleague from the Netherlands was taking pictures with an X100 and I thought, as do most people when they see this camera, he was a Film aficionado with an old viewfinder camera.

I asked him about it and he gave me a quick overview, including taking a picture of Budapests spectacular Széchenyi Chain Bridge and zooming in to 20x, which convinced me that an optical zoom isn't necessarily necessary. Then he named the price and my interest waned quickly.

After several iterations of point-and-shoot cameras for holidays that don't warrant taking a heavy Canon 60D with several optics along, I was getting weary of the crap image quality, the irritating handling and the cheapo camera bodies. The last point-and-shoot I owned (still have it, in fact) was a Canon SX240HX. This little package offers a 20x optical zoom with image stabilizer - unfortunately it flares so heavily even at 10x that the pictures are ok for picking out something distant and capturing it for memories, but you certainly wouldn't want to put it on a 20x30cm print and hang it on the wall.

So when I came across
this review of the X100T by Ken Rockwell, my interest picked up again, despite the seemingly high cost of the camera. I read other reviews on the web, as well as reviews on Amazon, but lastly it was Mr. Rockwell's review that convinced me to give this camera a whirl. You might think that no one in their right mind would buy a camera at this pricepoint just from what they read about it? Well, I did. And I don't regret it one second.

That said, you can imagine that this review will be mostly positive, though I do have one or two things that I feel might have been done better (but I'm complaining on a very high level).
I'll also be addressing some things Mr. Rockwell put in his review. I don't plan on repeating all of what he wrote, as I find his review to be quite complete and to the point, so I'll just put in my two cents worth after intensely using the camera for several months.

Overall Impression
The camera is quite a bit heavier than expected - if you're used to cheapo plastic point-and-shoot cameras, you're in for a treat, both size- and weightwise. Personally, the added weight doesn't bother me in the least, I'm able to grip the camera much better due to the dimensions and the added weight gives confidence in both the ability to hold the unit steady and in the inbuilt quality.

If you're looking for a point-and-shoot, then this camera probably isn't for you. Of course it has automatic modes, so theoretically you could use it just to snap vacation pictures, but you'll probably be annoyed that you can't just flick the flash on with a switch or a button and you might feel that having a fixed focal length lens is too limiting. In addition, the pricepoint is easily four times a decent point-and-shoot with optical zoom.

This camera is clearly slated at people that don't want to snap pictures but rather do photography. The variability and adjustability is a huge plus - and for the most part, access to these controls is perfect. Just having an aperture ring and a focus ring on the lens is a dramatic departure from the normal point-and-shoot cameras, whose target customer often doesn't even know what aperture is (no offense intended - you don't need to know how an engine operates in order to drive a car, either).

The picture quality is formidable - the sensor resolution is the same as my Canon D60, and without having done comparative photography, I've got a feeling that the Fuji sensor is superior. I will do some tests in the near future, though and add them to this review. Some time ago, I wanted to film a „performance“ our kids put on (at home) and my D60 failed me completely (it had both issues with the memory card as well as with the lighting) - luckily, I had my X100T to hand, which captured the spectacle beautifully, despite the poor lighting.

Things I'd like to change
There are some things I'd like to change, but they are minimal. Take the on-off switch, for example. This is nearly perfect - the position, as a lever just under the shutter release, is easily findable without looking, the feedback is clear when operating it. It is too short, though, in my opinion. If your finger is just a tad oily or sweaty, you'll be digging at the indentations on the switch with your fingernail to operate it. I think that just adding a millimeter to it would have helped greatly - it is just too near-flush with the front of the camera for optimal operation.

Next is the rather large switch on the front between the lens and shutter release: this is a classic retro element that - in older 35mm cameras was used for the self-timer. Some designer probably said "we need to have that on there for the retro look", so the engineers thought about what they would do with it. So they made it to the switch that changes the viewfinder mode. I would love to have this switch changeable by software setting to some other function - I might put the Macro on/off function there or even the Flash on/off. The position is perfect and very easily operable while shooting. I haven't found the option to change this yet, but perhaps this will be possible in some future software release.

Lastly the manual: I’ve never seen such a crappy document from any established electronics equipment brand! It is horrible to read (probably written by the same engineer that put together the menu structure on my first car phone…) and much too short. The camera is complicated enough that it needs some decent and readable documentation. The manual that comes with it absolutely does not comply with this requirement.

Mr. Rockwell took the time to
write his own manual for the original X100, and even though the buttons and some of the functions on the X100T are different, I heartily recommend it to anyone new to the camera.


Things I love
Well, besides the view points above, basically everything else! I will mention a few things that are unusual for digital cameras, though:

1. USB Charging
At last, a camera you can charge via USB - I have no idea why all point-and-shoots I know of don’t offer this. In a time and age where charging on a USB port or wallplug charger is something toddlers can do (ok, I’m exaggerating), having to take out the battery and carrying a separate (bulky) charger is just not acceptable anymore.

I’ve now had the X100T on two vacations with just the battery already in the camera, charging in the evening. I’ve had some close calls, and if you want to make sure you don’t miss photos or video then you should probably take a second battery, but it is possible to take just the camera.

Interestingly enough, the camera draws about 700mA max when charging. Since USB charging doesn’t seem to take any longer than via the charger (about 2-3h), it appears that the batteries just can’t be charged quickly.

2. Sweep Panoramas
This one took be my surprise. Every iOS and many Android Phones offer a panorama photo mode, where you sweep the phone over a certain distance to get a - usually quite good - panorama photo.

Imagine my surprise to find such a mode by accident as one of the options when pressing the „Drive“ button! I was elated! I recommend to use the „Top to Bottom“ version, where you hold your camera in „portrait mode“ to sweep. While this is not as comfortable, it produces a more useful format, especially when doing 180° sweeps, as the resolution in the vertical direction is higher.

You can’t „interrupt“ a sweep to produce a shorter panorama, as you can on an iPhone, for example. That isn’t a problem though, as you can always crop a sweep down to what you need later on.

3. The Optics
When I first learned photography (on a Nikon FG-20, later an FM2), it was with a 50mm lens. This is what I received for Christmas many, many years ago (I believe I was 14) and that single lens is what I shot for years. Only later, when I started making money during college, did I purchase telephoto and wide-angle lenses.

I’d completely forgotten the joy of shooting a fixed, „normal“ lens. Not only is the image quality incredible (especially compared to the telezoom on my D60), the pictures have a „presence" that is just beautiful. There is no compression (telephoto) or expansion (wide angle) of the picture, so it represents roughly what you see with your own eyes, which is quite soothing. Also, when shooting with wider apertures, the background becomes beautifully blurry (Bokeh), making for astonishing people photography.

4. The Build Quality
Face it, your average point-and-shoot is a crappy piece of plastic. Drop it on the ground once, and you can be lucky to continue shooting pictures that are in focus. Not so with the X100T. It is a presence in your hands and will likely survive quite a bit more abuse unless you drop it right on the lens.

5. The Viewfinder
It is absolutely fantastic, what Fuji has done here. Just having a level „beamed“ into the optical viewfinder (along with important information on exposure, etc.) is a revelation. I have always tended to slightly (1-2°) tilted photos, which are annoying when you have something like an ocean in the picture. With the level, I take perfectly straight photos every time. My D60 has this feature, but only when taking photos via the LCD (which I rarely do).

The viewfinder is so good that I find myself using the X100T display rarely, even though it has a quick-bright feature by pressing the display button for 4+ seconds, making it excellent for bright sunlight. The viewfinder is more natural to my photography, and the X100T makes it a joy to take pictures this way. 


Points I question in regard to Mr. Rockwell's review
There are a few things mentioned in the otherwise excellent and very comprehensive review that I would challenge:
  1. he writes "The lens doesn't flare". I disagree. Any lens flares when hit by the right light from the side or front. Some lenses are better than others in preventing flare, and I would agree to "the lens almost never flares", but I have pictures with flare in them. Still: a great lens, no questions asked.
  2. he is quite adamant about not bothering with accessory lenses. There are two screw-on lenses available for the X100 series: a wide-angle and a teleconverter. While I absolutely agree that adding converters to an excellent lens takes away from the quality. Always. You also lose light - always. And while I would agree about not bothering with the wide-angle converter, I happen to have received the teleconverter as part of the camera package. I have used it and - to be honest - it isn't such a no-no, at least in my opinion. You might argue that the resolution of the resulting image is so high that you can just crop down to the part of the picture you want, you should remember that telephoto lenses don't just magnify the incoming image but also "compress" it in relation to depth of field. Especially in portrait photography, this is desired, which is why professional portrait photographers will generally use a lens slightly "larger" than the normal lens for the system. For 35mm, 80mm focal length lenses are often used (instead of 50mm "normal" lenses). 
  3. he writes that "Autofocus doesn't seem to work while shooting. Manual focus is claimed to." Autofocus works just fine while filming. You can set the Film mode to continuous autofocus or manual focus. If it is set to autofocus mode, it will re-focus as you move from a near to a far object while filming. This actually works quite well and is likely a lot faster and more precise than trying to film-and-focus by hand. It seems to use the very center of the image as a focal point.

Conclusions
Mr. Rockwell writes "If you're thinking about getting an X100T, just get one. You'll love it!". I got one, and I love it. If you are a photography buff and enjoy having complete control over your imaging device with superb image quality, then this camera is for you.

It is not as light or compact as some of the really small point-and-shoot zoom cameras, but the camera quality and - especially - the image quality of these toys just does not come anywhere close. You're comparing a Bentley (Fuji) to one of those motorcycle-engine boxes with four wheels they sell as "miniature cars" (point-and-shoot). But you're getting this Bentley at a very fair and affordable price.

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Ultrasound Networks for Divers

The Verge reported yesterday on a new type of diving console (the device attached to a hose that goes to your vest and lets you control buoyancy as well as giving you information such as depth, etc.) that hooks into a communications network based on ultrasound.

This network allows divers to communicate amongst each other as well as with the “base station” on the diving boat.

The idea, of course, was prone to pop up. Communication between divers under water is line-of-sight only, since it isn’t possible to speak under water - at least with normal scuba gear, This is why every dive should be done with a “buddy” - i.e. a one-to-one pairing of divers that keep each other in sight.

A lot of responsibility rests on the organizer of a diving trip - usually an instructor - when he or she takes a group of divers (not seldom 10 or more) on a dive. If you have inexperienced divers in the group, the “take care of your buddy” system frequently breaks, because it’s so damn pretty down there...

However, I see two main issues with introduction of this type of technology:

1. The buddy system works well - if both divers apply it properly - for a number of reasons. Often, the buddies are friends in real life (most people go diving with their significant other or friends instead of going on a diving trip alone), which helps in many situations where communication is key - if one of the two runs out of air, for example

I’m quite afraid that introduction of underwater communications will break the buddy system and create groupings of divers, as well as the breaking away of individual divers from the group that prefer to dive alone. Should something bad happen - from something simple as a calf cramp to more serious issues such as a broken respirator or a diver that gets stuck in a crack - panic will likely ensue. Everybody will start hitting buttons to “ping” others resulting in a communications overload of the network and a guaranteed negative outcome to the situation.

2. Ultrasonic communication underwater isn’t new; it’s been around as a military application for many years. It does have environmental issues, however. Ultrasound (defined as any sound frequency above 20kHz) is audible to many fish and other marine animals. If you’ve even been diving at the typical hotspots worldwide, you know how crowded those spots get. I’ve seen spots with 10 diving vessels, each carrying up to 30 divers. Imagine the sound pollution generated by 300 divers in the water at a single location, each hooked into an ultrasound network... I don’t want to think about what that will do to the fauna in the area!

Technology is a good thing - I’ll be the first to tell you that. But some things work just fine without it, better even. Personally, I think the buddy system for divers is one of those.
That such a system used only for emergency beaconing would be a benefit goes without saying, of course.
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Web Journalism: Where are the editors?

To get updates on various topics, I’ve subscribed to various Twitter feeds. Many of these are not based on traditional journalism models (i.e. Newspapers) but on small, startup agencies that cover specialized subjects. Unfortunately, the issue that many journalists predicted would happen with Web 2.0 journalism seems to be taking hold: the quality of the writing is, IMHO, below 10th grade level.

Take
this post from Mashable as an example. Simple errors here that are easily prevented with one quick look at Google Maps: 1) Jeddah isn’t “near” the Red Sea. It is ON the Red Sea. And Dubai isn’t a neighbor to Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates are. Abu Dhabi is. But Dubai isn’t. Also, if you look at the linked original article, Mashable has conveniently ignored a very important statement: “The $1.2bn (RM4bn) project has been plagued by setbacks since it was first proposed in 2011...”

Nitpicking? Hm. Maybe.

How about this article on Techcrunch. Skip to the section on the wind turbine “Trinity”. And I quoth from the text: “The micro USB port is used to charge the turbine before it can be uses with a 15,000 mAh battery. “ Ummm... why do I have to charge the turbine before using it? And what sort of grammar is “before it can be uses with a ... battery”??? That sentence doesn’t even make any sense!

This sentence from the same post is even better: “The mini turbine is powered by a 15W generator.” Um. I thought the mini turbine is wind-powered? Try: “A 15W generator is powered by the mini turbine”... ahh! Now I get it.

To be fair to Techcrunch: they merely copied the text 1:1
from the Backerjack site. Maybe that’s the new journalism: surf the internet for possibly interesting material, steal the text on these sites without reading it, paste it to your own website and put your name to it to make people think you wrote this stuff yourself.

On Techcrunch, Mr.
Ross Rubin, who posted the article above, did just that. This gentleman calls himself “principal analyst” at Reticle Research, “which he founded in 2012” (please note the quotes - when I got my degrees, we were still taught that sentences from other sources need to be quoted - something Mr. Rubin apparently didn’t learn). I always thought analysts... well - analyze? If you’d like to know what an industry analyst does, check out this extensive entry in Wikipedia.

I don’t want to only pick on Mr. Rubin here - I’ve noticed this as a general trend, and not just in the US. Apparently, the social media culture generates so much pressure to tweet, post, link and blog that folks would actually be required to sit down for a couple of hours a day to generate output.

Good thing that with WYSIWYG computing, Cmd-C/Cmd-V (that’s Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V for you poor folks out there still using Windows) was part of the “package”. And good thing those two keys are so close to one another, otherwise one would burn even more calories copying other folk’s 5th-grade-level content by having to use two hands to plagiarize.

******** April 22 Update: on the day I published this, Mr. Rubin sent me a tweet: “@hdbaumeister Thanks for pointing out the issues. I’ll address them.” He did and I definitely want to mention that here. Subsequently, you’ll find the linked article above has been edited. Thanks, Mr. Rubin!
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