photography technology

My next camera?

I know, I hardly ever shoot these days, so why am I looking at cameras? Habit I guess, I started looking around for the hell of it and was amazed to see some of the newer cameras out there. It looks like they are actually starting to make the camera that I had wished for back when I was selling them. I wanted a small camera with a 35mm sized sensor in it. In the years since, I have come to appreciate some of the depth of field advantages of a smaller sensor. Plus, the high ISO limitations that used to come along with the smaller sensors has disappeared. The new APS-sized sensors absolutely smoke 35mm in high ISO situations. So I think I could easily use a camera with a sensor smaller than 35mm, but I still want a really small camera. Is this the one for me?


Yes, it’s a Sony. So what? I predicted long ago that when cameras became electronic gadgets as opposed to mechanical ones that the electronics manufacturers would rise to the occasion. Sure enough, Sony, Samsung, and Panasonic are all making strong pushes in the camera world. The images I’ve seen have been more than good enough, and the video looks fantastic. The key for me is that it’s small, small enough that I don’t mind carrying it around. They have even managed to get around not having a viewfinder by making the screen tilt-able. I would be able to use this like the TLR cameras I used to use. I love waist level finders, and this would work well.


Of course, the amount of money that this costs would go a long ways towards a new computer. So for now, this will be one more cool thing (ooh! shiny!) that I’m not going to buy. I’ll probably hold off on buying a new camera until I actually go on another trip. Lord knows when that might be…


I love google voice

I don’t tend to talk on the phone much, but when I do I tend to talk a while. It’s a type of calling pattern that makes getting a matching calling plan difficult. I have been using a pay as you go plan that works fairly well. It’s 10 cents a minute, but I have unlimited minutes after 7pm.

I have recently discovered google voice. It trumps my calling plan by being free. Can’t beat that… In addition to that, my iPod headphones and mic easily outclasses my nasty 20 dollar phone. Here’s how you use it. First, you have to have a gmail account. Next, log into the gmail webpage. You’ll see a notice on the sidebar on the left about activating google voice, click on it and fro then on your sidebar will look like this:


Once you click on the “call phone” link, you’ll see a keypad show up:



Dial your number and away you go! The call quality still isn’t up to land line standards, but it’s a far sight better than cell phones, especially mine. For right now this is still a free domestic service and they offer really cheap calls even to places like Yemen, Azerbaijan, or Oman (Olga and Rachel, I’m looking at you!).




Like many things google, there is a fair chance this will stay free for a while. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!


politics technology

Net neutrality paranoia

Once again, the specter of government regulation of the internet rears its head under the banner of net neutrality. Once again, people seem to have their stories confused as to why this is an important topic. We are told that corporations are plotting to give priority to certain types of information speed-wise over others. The networking companies claim this is the only way they can efficiently use their networks, by separating VOIP, streaming video, and email from each other and then charging people for the bandwidth they actually use. Somehow, this is supposed to lead to them filtering information so that people only get what the corporations want them to get.

Tell me that doesn’t sound paranoid, go ahead. It also doesn’t make any sense. It actually does make sense from the networking end of things to give different types of traffic different priorities, but let’s ignore that for a second. Are the companies greedy or not? Do they try to make as much money as possible, do they try to outdo their competition for subscribers?

My question is this, who would subscribe to a service that blocks content? Or to put a different spin on it, how long would it take for a company to advertise that they do not block content or restrict speeds regardless of content? Do you think that would give them a competitive advantage?

See, that’s the thing, net neutrality laws are totally unnecessary assuming that there are at least a couple of companies actually competing for subscribers. As long as one company offers non-discriminatory speeds, all of them have to. As long as one of them does not restrict content, none of them can. I say go ahead Comcast, try to implement some content filtering and see what happens. Verizon/cox/everyone else will be licking their chops waiting for your ex-customers.

On the other side of things, allowing congress to get a foothold in the workings of the internet is a very dangerous precedent. Would you want Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove, or Jesse Helms mucking around with the internet? No? Then you can’t allow Pelosi, Franken, and Frank mess with it either. Leave the internet alone. We will be taken care of, not because the companies want to, but because they have to in order to survive and beat the competition.

music technology

An experiment

So I figured out the caching feature in Slacker radio. Essentially, I pick the station I want to listen to on my iPod and then tap a button to tell it to cache that station. I’ve read that it saves about 100 songs per station. I’ve set up 12 to do that, classics (as in Beatles and Stones), New York Dolls, Potishead, Modern Punk, UK Indie, Silversun Pickups, Pixies and stuff, Buddy Holly Radio, ’80s alternative, Indie hits, Classic Jazz, and Indie.

I have decided to go with an all “picked for me playlist” approach for a while. So I’ve got the Slacker stuff on there, and I’ve also put some genius playlists on there as well, Punk Mix, New Wave mix, mainstream rock mix, jazz mix, Indie rock mix, Brit-pop and rock mix, alternative pop/rock mix, and Alt. singer/songwriter mix.

What I like about this approach is that I still get the music I like, but it is a surprise for me, and I spend zero effort getting it on my iPod. You laugh, but when you have 34,000+ songs in your library, it’s a pain to go through and actually make playlists. Even if I did, I would then face the monotony of knowing exactly what was in them. This approach keeps things fresh. As strange as it may sound, even with 34,000+ songs, you can get into ruts. That’s where Slacker comes in. I can once again have the thrill of finding the song on the radio, but I get to skip the songs I don’t like.


Ahhh, life is good! Who needs cellular service to enjoy internet radio?

music technology

Just subscribed to Slacker Radio

I’ve been enjoying Slacker radio on my squeezebox ever since I got it. I love the genre stations I’ve picked out (Indie, indie hits, 80’s alternative, and classic jazz) and the custom stations I’ve created have also been great. I have never been able to get Pandora to do what I want, but slacker has done the job for me. At 4 bucks a month, it’s well worth it to me.


I’m intrigued by their cache option. They say I can cache the station on my iPod touch and then play it offline. For you iPhone users, you do this over wi-fi so you don’t chew through your bandwidth limits. That would come in real handy for the car. I’ll update you on how that goes. I also have to figure out how to do the song request thing on my squeezebox. I love having the radio without dealing with FM!

music technology

Last FM and more…

I had mentioned Pandora radio before, I now feel that I have found an even better internet radio service. It’s called Last FM and it is amazing. Here’s the way it works, it looks at all the music you have played, in iTunes, internet radio, and on your iPod, and builds an artist library for you. From there, you can play “your” radio station (assembled from the artists you play), or listen to recommendations for you based on those artists.

I am in heaven. I have found a radio station that will play Joan Jett, Wilco, Devo, Glenn Gould, The Bouncing Souls, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Spoon, the Detroit Cobras, and all of my other favorite groups. There isn’t another station that has that kind of spread. It’s my station, made of my music. Oh life is good, life is good my friends.

That station is for the sure bet, when I’m in the mood for something reliable. I haven’t done a lot of listening to the recommended station yet, but I’m excited about that too. I’m getting new music ideas from the Slacker “Indy Rock hits” station, Radioio’s jazz standards station, a crazy east coast Doo-Wop station on live 365, and I’m looking into

This is the radio I’ve been waiting my whole life for. I had no idea that this was even possible. Last FM may be all the reason I need to actually get an iPhone, it will allow me to take this on the road. We’ll see if I ever shut up about this, in the meantime, please bear with this music lover’s gushing….

audio technology

I have music again!

So, my Squeezebox Touch got here today. In a lucky break, so did my switch and ethernet bridge. To recap, the SB Touch is a network/internet music player you can hook up to your stereo. I can stream the music from my computer via the network to it, or I can use it independently to listen to internet radio stations.

Here’s how I set it up. Since I’m on FIOS, I was able to use a MOCA ethernet bridge to get the internet from the coax cable in my room. I took that ethernet cable and attached it to a 5 port switch. That gave me 4 more ethernet ports. I then simply hooked the computer and the SB Touch into the switch and I was done. I now have the music from my computer going over our network in the house.

I have been enjoying listening to my music without having it bog down my computer. I’ve also been enjoying the radio. I listened to my college’s radio station WICB for hours, they are still one of the best college stations I have heard. I can also get all the worthwhile local stations like WTOP for news, and the Public stations too. I need to figure out when a Prairie Home Companion comes on so I can start listening to it again… All of these sound much better than regular FM, and as far as I can tell I can get damn near any station in the US.

Of course the other great thing that internet radio allows is the ability to use services like Pandora or Slacker. Slacker is a really good internet service. They sound great and have a lot of diverse stations. Pandora is a service that allows you to make your own stations based on an artist or song. It will pick others like the one you picked and then you can tell it what you like and don’t like to narrow the view down. So far, I have made Buddy Holly radio, Silversun Pickups radio, Tito Puente radio, Beck radio, and Where is My Mind radio (from the Pixies song).

I overspent on all of this, but I am already really enjoying the experience and plan on taking the radio around the house since it ties into the wireless network as well. My iPod touch controls it through the wireless as well. This is the first audio toy I’ve bought in years, and it’s a winner. I’ll let you know if I find any hidden gems out there while “twisting the dial….”


Networking made easy

I continue to love FIOS. It is stable, and fast. Not all is well internet-wise though. Here’s the layout of the system currently; the main router/wireless interface is downstairs. There are two computers connected to it directly via ethernet. There are three of us sharing the 802.11G wireless. I’m upstairs using the wireless. Normally, things are fine, but more and more I think I’m running out of wireless bandwidth. Last night I tried to download a largish file and had some pretty bad speeds. As it turns out, two of the other guys were streaming over wi-fi too.

I have been thinking about getting a squeezebox (I blogged about that in my post radio reborn) and had assumed that I would use it wirelessly. After doing some reading, I don’t think that’s going to be a good idea. Music would have to go from my computer to the wireless router, and then from that to the squeezebox. With big music files (like FLAC or Apple lossless) and other things from my housemates via wi-fi, I don’t think it would work very well.

But what to do? I had thought that I could just move the router upstairs and connect directly, but they already have two computers hooked up. It doesn’t seem right to make them scramble to do something else. I’m in a rental, so it isn’t like I can run my own cabling in the walls.

There are in fact a couple of newish alternatives! One uses the electrical wiring in the house for networking. You buy two of the devices, one is attached via ethernet to your router and then plugged into an electrical outlet. The other device is plugged into any other outlet in the house. You then run a cable from that to your computer/device you need networked. This method is easy, and really flexible since there are usually plenty of outlets to choose from. There can be some troubles if the outlets aren’t on the same circuit, and interference on the lines could also be a problem.

I’ve decided to go with a MOCA (multimedia over Coax alliance) solution to my problem. This uses existing coax cable to network through the house. The set up is similar to the powerline stuff, but you need to attach it to a coax connection somewhere in the house. Here’s where it gets good for me. It turns out that FIOS is already using MOCA to send info throughout the house. What this means is that I already have the initial device on the line, I just need to add another.

So, from the coax port in my room, I will attach a splitter. One side will go to my set top box for TV, the other side will go to an actiontec router. That will give me 4 ethernet jacks. Not only will I avoid the potential signal dropouts from the squeezebox, but I should get more reliable (and possibly faster) internet as well.

If you’ve been wondering how to network more stuff in your house, this could be your answer. If you’re already on FIOS, half the equipment is already there! I’ll let you know how it goes, I plan on attempting this in 2 or three months.

audio technology


I went into Best Buy today looking for a particular item. They weren’t really helpful, and I couldn’t find what I was looking for, but I did get a chance to wander around a bit. I hadn’t been in one for quite a while. The TVs were, as always, quite impressive. If I actually watched much, I would have bought one straight away.

The LPs surprised me. They didn’t have many, but there they were. I had heard that vinyl had made a comeback, but I had assumed that it was mostly for DJing. They had a Springsteen, GnR, and something else that didn’t really lend itself to mixing. Later o, I also saw about 5 or 6 record players, most with USB outputs.

The oddest things I saw were both from Sony. Did you know that they still make a cassette walkman? It’s 40 bucks! I don’t think I saw any cassette tapes around, but there were the players. I cannot imagine anyone wanting to use a cassette deck these days, mp3 players are around the same price and are oh so much better. Even the LPs included mp3 downloads of the albums. Why cassette?

The other oddity was a 300 Cd changer, it was around $300 if I remember correctly. If this was 1995, it would be the most amazing thing ever, but now? It would be far better, in all respects, to simply rip those 300 cds to your computer and then hook that up to your stereo. Even if you ripped them in a lossless format to preserve the sound quality the cost, the reliability, and the functionality would be far higher with the computer.

The sad thing is that the record players seemed more sensible than the cd players these days, how’s that for irony?


Verizon sucks

I’ve never been so frustrated in a company. Usually, bad companies have bad products and bad support. FIOS seems to be the odd combo of a great product and lousy service. I’ve had them for 4 or 5 months now and I’m about done with talking to them. Here’s a letter I sent them, I’m sure it’ll go nowhere…


“This is a general complaint letter. I have to say that in my years of dealing with different service providers, Verizon is by far the most incompetent one I have ever dealt with. The service itself has been great, I can’t complain about FIOS, but there have been a slew of problems around it. The hell of it is, none of them should have ever come up. What has happened? Here’s a list:


1) The initial service installation was somehow made as a business one despite the fact that option was never offered and never mentioned when I signed up for consumer services online.


2) It took almost a  month to get an additional box mailed out to the house. It took 6(!) calls over that time to make anything happen. I was told that the problem stemmed from your inability to cancel a service call.


3) When I complained about how long it took to get the box delivered, the guy offered to give me 3 months of free HBO, Cinemax, etc. I flatly told him no since I don’t watch that stuff. Well, lo and behold, he added it anyway and I was then charged for it when that 3 months ran out.


4) The latest issue involved my billing. I signed up for auto pay, got both the printed confirmation, and the online one. I logged into my account today to find that it did not use my card and I still owed for last month despite the fact that right below that the website said that I was enrolled in autopay. I called in and was informed that “the customer” had requested the credit card be taken off the account. Needless to say, “this customer” did no such thing.


I want to be clear, the FIOS service has been very good, and every person I have talked to has been very nice. Useless, but nice. I thank my lucky stars that nothing has gone wrong, I don’t know if I could deal with the prospect of having to get an actual problem solved when the incidental things, the things that are supposed to be easy have been so maddeningly frustrating. I will continue to use FIOS as long as it stays reliable, but Verizon has most defiantly lost a potential wireless customer. I hope that you can improve your behind the scenes operations, they really are awful.”


Isaac Crawford