The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for March, 2011

Hands on with Ipad 2

Posted by Deliverator on 17th March 2011

Well, I wound up getting myself an Ipad 2. I was able to sell my Ipad 1 via Gazelle for a substantial percentage of a new one, so the cost of upgrading was minimal. I ended up visiting 5 stores on the first day of sales (March 11th) before I finally found an Apple store at University Village with any left. I ended up getting a 16 GB model with Verizon 3g. As with the first Ipad, I purchased a 3g model not for the 3g connectivity but for the GPS functionality. I’ve been using the new Ipad 2 pretty heavily the last few days and thought I would share my thoughts:

-The Ipad 2 feels very different when held due to the curved edges and flat back. The flat back is really nice, as the first generation Ipad had a curved back and wouldn’t lay flat on a table and tended to want to scoot around when used. The curved edges are frankly quite annoying, as it makes it extremely difficult to plug in the main dock connector and the 1/8th” headphone port doesn’t fully mechanically support the headphone plug on all sides, making it difficult to determine if headphones are properly seated. This may also prevent the use of certain headphone designs.

-The Ipad 2 includes only a single speaker like the Ipad 1. It would have been nice if they had gone with stereo speakers, but that said, the speaker on the Ipad 2 is a LOT better. The original’s speaker was overly quiet and wasn’t much good for watching movies and the like.

-Upgrading from the Ipad 1 to Ipad 2 was super-easy. I ran a full backup of my first generation Ipad and then synced my Ipad 2. Itunes transfered all my apps and data. I only needed to manually restore settings for a few program, such as my twitter client, online banking client, etc. which don’t allow their data to be backed up. This had to be the easiest old computer->new computer migration I’ve ever done.

-I purchased an official Apple leather “smart cover” to go with my unit. I really like Apple’s minimal approach to providing screen protection. The smart cover adds only minimal thickness, provides scratch protection when you have the Ipad in a bag and folds up into a stand giving you two useful viewing angles. It also engages/disengages sleep mode on the unit. I expect this cover to be a good solution for most users. I doubt it will be the final solution for me, however. The Ipad 2, like the Ipad 1, is very slick, literally. There is no texture to the back surface, making it difficult to grasp one handed. I bought a Street Skin for my first unit and will likely do the same when they introduce an Ipad 2 version.

-The cameras are really crappy, especially for still shots. Grainy, low resolution, motion blur, poor light sensitivity are all words I would use in connection with these cameras. I really wish Apple hadn’t gone so low end in this area. The two upsides to the inclusion of cameras is that Apple has come out with a good video editing program for the Ipad for the first time and the camera works with most iOS apps designed for the Iphone. This has enabled me to deposit checks into my bank account without needing to visit my bank, for instance.

All in all, I really like the Ipad 2 over the Ipad 1, but it definitely has its faults.

Posted in iOS, Operating Systems, Tech Stuff | No Comments »

Inexpensive/Disposable Video Cameras

Posted by Deliverator on 16th March 2011

Five and a half years ago I started fooling around with “disposable” video cameras being sold through the CVS pharmacy chain. These video cameras were meant to be one time use equivalents of the cardboard box disposable still cameras still sold at many stores throughout the world. The idea was you would pay around $30 for the camera, go out and take some footage and then bring the camera back and they would give you a DVD with your video on it, but keep the camera. The pharmacy would then wipe your unit and sell it again to someone else. The CVS cameras were small, built robustly and powered by simple AA’s and inexpensive. Naturally, the hacker community went to work on the cameras and quickly figured out how to download the video without the pharmacy’s help, making them reusable. These were great cameras for use in places you wouldn’t want to risk a “real” camera. People attached them to model rockets, helicopters, planes, placed them next to hot things, explody things, etc. They were cheap enough that you wouldn’t think twice about risking the camera on the off chance of capturing some cool footage. Naturally, I bought half a dozen.

Over the years, I’ve attached them to robots, glued fisheye lenses on them, put them in zip-lock bags and used them underwater. I’ve captured some real fun footage because I was no longer risk adverse about risking the camera. In the process I’ve destroyed two cameras outright, permanently modified two for niche uses and one is good for only spare parts. Only two escaped my abuse entirely unscathed. Today, I threw them all away.

Why?

Quite simply, the magic economic equations surrounding gadgets + mass market demand + capitalism + time has rendered the old CVS cameras obsolete. For under $50 I can now buy a camera from Kodak that is quite a bit smaller, holds more video and at higher quality than the CVS cameras, and is mildly hardened for rugged and underwater use. If you shop around, you can get this camera for more like $40 at stores like Best Buy, but I just got mine at Amazon. There are similar form factor cameras from other makers, but most are significantly more expensive HD capable units that are designed more for people wanting a cheap, small, everyday camcorder or for technophobic people looking for a very easy to operate video camera. These units (Flip for example) tend to be more like $100.

Tomorrow, I am going to strap one onto a robot and watch things go crunch. If the camera survives, great! If it doesn’t, the camera’s Micro-SDHC card is small enough that I can find it intact in the twisted, shattered remains and I probably got some great footage for $50. Photography and videography is at its most interesting when people are willing to push boundaries and experiment. The technology has finally gotten cheap enough that “that would be really cool but I don’t want to break this expensive piece of equipment” is no longer part of the equation.

Some thoughts on the Kodak Mini Video Camera:

-Captures at 640×480 at 30 fps as an AVI file using an MJPEG video codec and 16 bit PCM audio at 11khz. At this setting you can fit about an hour’s video on the included 2 GB Micro-SDHC card. You can also do QVGA at 60hz and take stills as well. There doesn’t appear to be any image stabilization, but what can you (currently) expect from a camera that is under $50. Give it a few years though…

-The camera has a built in rechargeable battery. The unit has a pop out full sized type A USB connector that pops out of the side for charging. You will need to use a USB extension cable (not included) to plug it into a PC to charge. My unit did not show up as a USB mass storage device when I plugged it into a computer running the 64 bit version of Windows 7. Other users report it coming up as a drive letter and forcibly installing (without prompting) some piece of software called Arcsoft Mediaimpression SE which also seizes control of most video/photo file extensions. I was glad this was not the case with my unit.

-Because my unit doesn’t show up as a USB mass storage device, I had to pop the Micro-SDHC card out of the bottom of the unit. I had to use itty-bitty tweezers (thanks Tweezerman!) to grab onto the card as there is no ejection mechanism for the card. A 2 GB card was included with mine, but this camera is sometimes sold without a card.

-The camera is exceedingly easy to use, with just an on/off button, 4 way arrow buttons and center selector and a “settings menu” button. The simple control scheme should make this a good camera for micro-controller driven operation, if someone wants to strip it down to just the circuit board for use on a rocket, kite, balloon or something.

-The whole unit is smaller than a pack of cards.

-I am not sure if I would entirely trust the built in waterproofing on the camera. The only point of entry for water is through the base, which hinges open to reveal the USB connector and card slot and potentially around the membrane rubber buttons. The base does have some rubbery gasket material to seal against water, but it is pretty minimal. I would recommend coating the area with a thick grease/vaseline, etc. before submersion in water beyond a few feet.

 

Posted in Photography, Portable Computing/Gadgets | 1 Comment »

My take on Ipad 2

Posted by Deliverator on 2nd March 2011

I own an original model Ipad and use it daily. Today, Apple announced Ipad 2. Here are my thoughts on it and whether it is enough for me to upgrade:

Pluses:

-Ipad 2 is thinner and a little lighter than the original, while retaining the same general width x height and screen size of the original. The slight reduction in weight will be nice for those who use it as an book reader, as arm fatigue was a definite factor with the original.

-Ipad 2 has dual cameras. I’ve never seen video conferencing as much of a killer app, but I know some people that were really dieing for this with the Ipad 1.

-Ipad 2 has a new, faster dual core processor with what is being described as “9x” faster graphics. I am all for increased performance, but it is up in the air whether many app makers will write applications that make use of the faster subsystems for risk of alienating the large Ipad 1 user base.

-Magnetic screen cover system is a big plus in my view, as it lets you protect the Ipad’s screen when putting it in a bag or (in my case) large pocket, while adding little to the dimensions of the unit. Most cases for the Ipad 1 greatly increased the unit’s apparent bulk.

-3G models available for Verizon and not just AT&T.

-Has some extra motion sensing capability (3 axis gyro) compared to Ipad 1, which should be nice for gaming.

-One of the big pluses in my view is the new HDMI video output adapter, which works for ALL applications. This is a big change from Ipad 1 where applications had to be specially coded AND approved for TV output use. Think Hulu+, games, etc.

-Pricing is being kept competitive or slightly lower than similar Android devices

Negatives:

-No built in SD slot for downloading photos. This should have been do-able even with the thinner bezel of Ipad 2. The lack of a SD slot was a consistent minus cited by many Ipad 1 users/reviewers. I hate that Apple tries to make their devices aesthetically clutter free at the expense of needing to buy and carry a lot of easily lost adapters & dongles.

-No USB port. Nuff said. Wasn’t a big issue with me, but I know a lot of people wanted it.

-The Ipad 2 apparently still has only 256 MB of ram. I’ve bumped up against this consistently in my everyday use of the Ipad 1, which has the same amount, especially when doing tabbed browsing.

-Still requires an external power brick for charging versus being able to charge via USB on most computers, even if it takes significantly longer.

-Still no syncing over WiFi.

Externalities:

-Apple is beginning to enforce much harsher terms on 3rd parties wishing to supply content to Ipad users. They are essentially requiring any content being provided to users to also be available for purchase through their own content stores at the same price, so that they can get a (sizeable) cut of the pie. This will apparently apply even when the purchase is made “off site” and not as an in-app purchase. This will effectively make it impossible / not cost effective for competitors like Kindle, Nook and Sony to offer eBooks to Ipad users and will likely broadly apply to other types of content as well. I find this move to be incredibly anti-competitive and is a HUGE minus for me. One of the things which has made Ipad such a compelling part of my daily life is its ability to consume media from a variety of sources, whether that is news, books, music, podcasts or video. By constraining my choices to what Apple itself offers, they have greatly limited the appeal of the whole platform to me. If it wasn’t for this single thing, I would probably buy an Ipad 2. As is, if these changes take effect, I may sell my existing Ipad 1 in favor of an Android alternative.

Posted in General, iOS, Rants and Raves, Tech Stuff | No Comments »