Just trying out Windows Live Writer for blog posting. I was using Flock and enjoyed having that capability from the browser, but Flock takes forever to start up on my computer. Since I surf way more than I blog, it didn’t make sense to suffer a poor browser experience for a good blogging one. We’ll see how this works.

Update: I have given up using Live Writer, using ScribeFire in Firefox instead. Not that Live Writer was bad – it worked just fine – but ScribeFire works just as well and makes it easier to blog about specific sites and articles you are reading because of the integration with Firefox.

For you Pulp Fiction loving, Republican hating folks out there, here’s a great parody that answers the question of what really happened with Dick Cheney and Harry Whittington and that infamous shooting incident.

The preferred mode of travel in Delhi is the ubiquitous autorickshaw. These are little more than scooters with a small passenger compartment attached to the back. Because of the free-for-all driving in Delhi, these little guys can zip through traffic faster than conventional taxis. In fact, there are parts of old Delhi where the streets are so narrow that these and the even less automated pedal rickshaws are the only ways to get around.

Taxi?Taxi?Hosted on Zooomr

I just got back from India on Friday after the longest time I’ve ever spent in an airplane in one sitting (16 hrs from Delhi to Chicago!). India is a fascinating place. There is, of course, lots of poverty – I think I was told that the average income is something like a dollar a day – but it’s not reflected in the people like it is in other countries. The people are, in general, happy and helpful (even more helpful if a tip might be involved) and while they live in what we might consider squalid conditions, there is a palpable sense of community even in these shack ghettos.

And then there is technology. The mobile market is through the roof there which, for the second most populous country on the planet, really means something. Broadband has a ways to go (256kbps is the fastest speed!), but is approaching the hockey stick ramp up. There are new roads going in, fancy new corporate offices, Delhi has a brand new underground Metro train system – infrastructure is being developed all over the country. It takes a long time to construct there because of simple (some would say primitive) construction methods – you still see bamboo scaffolding and they move concrete by having women carry it in baskets on their heads. Heck, I saw three guys on their hands and knees cutting a rather large lawn with hedge clippers. Of course, their philosophy is why invest in equipment if labor is cheap and plentiful – they would rather have the country employed before they start looking for efficiencies.
I didn’t make it to Agra and the Taj Mahal like I had hoped, and my camera lens kept fogging up as I went from the air conditioned car to the 100 degree humidity, but I still got off a few good shots that I’ll post shortly.

So, I placed an order for the Canon 24-105 f/4L IS lens from Abe’s of Maine. It has been out of stock forever, but I just got notice that it shipped. Can’t wait to try this out, since it’s a great walkabout range with L quality glass and IS to boot! I’ll post about its performance as soon as it comes in and I have a chance to try it out.

So, I was reading Thomas Hawk’s blog and noticed an article on Flock, a new browser based on Firefox’s rendering engine. The key features are an easy blog posting tool, Flickr integration for viewing and uploading photos, and del.icio.us integration for bookmarking. Since I use all three of these services, it seemed like a natural. So far, I’m pretty impressed. The browser’s fast, may extension authors for Firefox have ported their extensions to Flock, so I can still use Scrapbook and a few others that I rely on. I’ll keep on using it as my primary browser for a few weeks and will report back then.

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What do you know? It appears Microsoft listens after all. In their latest update to MCE2005, they finally fixed the subchannels problem with the EPG that I mentioned in a previous post. I can now see a complete EPG for all the channels I receive – a must for any serious DVR’ing.

I love my Media Center PC. No, really, I do. Sure, it’s a frequent source of frustration, but overall it works pretty well. Sounds like alot of products from Microsoft, huh?

One source of frustration is that the EPG (Electronic Program Guide) for OTA (over the air) digital TV has errors. For PBS, it shows the program listings for standard definition rather than the hi def version, and it doesn’t show any listings for subchannels (for those not familiar with ATSC TV, channels can have subchannels, like PBS Encore, PBS Kids, etc.). I tried a hack that had me faking the MCE box to believe I was receiving digital cable and changing the OTA listings to point to their digital cable counterparts. This actually looked like it was going to work and it indeed fixed my PBS HD problem, but the listings for the subchannels just showed the listing for the main channel. So all 5 PBS subchannels now show the PBS HD listing. Not very useful, huh? I tried using some third-party hacks to download listings from zap2it.com and convert it into MCE format, but I ended up hosing the OS and having to reinstall it. There went another weekend lost to my MCE box. Thank God I have an understanding wife…

Just bought this little point and shoot gem after the usual loads of research. Being a Canon family, I was tempted to get the SD450 or 550 when looking to upgrade my S400. Then I read Ken Rockwell’s review of the Casio EX-Z750. It’s a 7.2 MP P&S that’s just a hair smaller than the SD550. Why did I opt for this camera? Well, first, it actually has a manual mode. No, really, a real manual mode. It can do shutter and aperture priority as well as full manual. You can set the shutter up to 60 secs and I’ve already taken some night shots with it successfully. It also records 640×480 30fps video encoded in MPEG-4. Most P&S cameras record using MPEG-2, which is clearly inferior from a compression standpoint. I can fit about 3x the recording time on this little Casio than I could have on the Canon. That equates to over an hour on the 1GB SD card I got for it. That said, there are a few gotchas. There have been some reports of a “Lens Error” that occurs when the mechanism that extends and retracts the lens goes “off track”. This can happen if the camera inadvertantly turns on when in your pocket or with your hand blocking the lens. I’ve turned off the setting that allows you to turn the camera on using the Play and Record buttons to limit exposure to this. Also, the default settings for sharpening and saturation were a little extreme for me. Casio released a firmware fix that reduced this a bit, but it wasn’t enough for me. No biggie, I just changed the defaults in the settings to -1.

All in all, I’ve been very pleased with my new toy.

Update: over two years later, and I’m still loving the Casio. They’ve come out with newer models, but screwed up many of them with inferior image quality. The manual mode has been great and I’ve taken a number of night shots with shutter speeds of several seconds. Of course, a tripod or someplace to rest the camera is needed and you have to activate the 2 second self timer, but it works great. I’m still looking for the perfect point-and-shoot (Panasonic is getting close), but for the meantime, the Casio does the trick.

OK, digital camera technology is moving fast enough that it’s time for an update. If you have a digital point-and-shoot that’s over a year old (yes, only a year), you might want to take a look at the new crop of cameras that are out now. With point-and-shoots, most people complain about shutter lag (the amount of time from when you push the shutter button to when the photo actually gets taken). Movie modes in older cameras were also pretty dismal, with low resolution and poor quality. The newer crop of cameras out have addressed these issues and are adding great new features like image stabilization.

Point-and-Shoot

If I bought a point-and-shoot now, I would get the Canon SD400 (or wait a few weeks for the SD450, which has a larger LCD screen). In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a big fan of Canon. Between my wife and me, we now have 7 Canon cameras (2 digital point-and-shoots, 4 digital SLRs, and an SLR film camera). Their build quality is great and they take great pictures. The SD400 is a 5-megapixel camera in an extremely small package. It has a 3x zoom and takes 640×480, 30fps movies (basically DVD quality). And did I mention it’s tiny? Oh yeah, I guess so. As of today, it can be found for about $300. There is also an SD500, that’s a very nice 7-megapixel camera, but it’s a little larger and a bit more expensive. For a “throw in your pocket” little camera, I think the SD400 is perfectly suited.

“Hybrid” Point-and-Shoot

There’s a new class of camera that bridges the gap between the point-and-shoot and SLR. The provide the creative control of an SLR (aperture/shutter-priority and full manual exposure control, RAW file format, etc.) but have fixed lenses and movie modes like P&Ss. In my last post on this topic, I recommended the Panasonic Lumix FZ20. Since then, they’ve released the FZ30, which has some significant improvements. It’s now an 8 megapixel shooter, has a 35-420mm (35mm equivalent) image stabilized lens, a much improved LCD and EVF (electronic viewfinder), and a mechanical zoom ring on the lens (rather than a electronic zoom) that you can use during the movie mode. From the specs and what I’ve read, it kicks butt over Canon’s equivalent, the S2IS, and is therefore the one departure from Canon in my recommendations. I don’t have this camera yet, but it’s only a matter of time. Oh, and you can pick it up for about $600, but it’s brand spankin’ new, so the price’ll come down.

Digital SLR

On the digital SLR front, we have 2 20D cameras. It’s an 8.2 megapixel camera that takes the entire range of Canon EF and EF-S lenses (as well as third party lenses from Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina). For about $1300, it’s one kick-ass camera. As for lenses, we mostly use Canon’s 28-135mm IS (image stabilization), which is a great “walkaround” lens because of the zoom range and the IS. We also have a couple of “L” lenses, which are Canon’s luxury line (mostly used by pros). They usually cost well in excess of $1000 each, but there are a few that are reasonably priced (in the L world, “reasonable” is relative). The 17-40mm f/4 and the 70-200mm f/4 can be had for about $600 each and are great quality lenses if you don’t need the low-light performance of a faster (f/2.8) lens. Canon is also adding a 24-105mm f/4 IS lens to the lineup at the end of September that we’ll likely purchase, but it looks like it’s going to come in at around $1100 (a bit much for a “slow” L lens, but the IS should make it worth the premium). I’m also planning on getting Canon’s new 70-300 IS lens. It’s a consumer lens (not an “L”), but it’s still of good quality and is ALOT more affordable (will probably retail for about $400). The IS is great in a long zoom, since the greater the zoom, the more difficult it is to get a handheld shot without shake. Note that Canon currently has a 70-300 IS lens, but it doesn’t have the newer ring-type USM (ultrasonic motor) focusing, so it doesn’t focus as fast and quietly as the new one should.