ted & pamela

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Streaming music from Windows to Linux

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Pamela and I had a problem we thought would be simple to solve: we have all of our music on one computer, and we want to make it available over the network to all of the other computers in the house. Sounds like it should be a pretty common problem (at least among the tech crowd), right?

Well, since we use iTunes on our Windows and Mac machines, we figured we’d try iTunes sharing first. This worked great… except that there doesn’t seem to be any way to stream music from iTunes to Linux. iTunes doesn’t run under Wine, and DAAP streaming from iTunes hasn’t worked since iTunes 6.

After a bit of searching around, I decided to try running a DAAP server on the Windows 7 machine to serve our music. Based on what I had read, our our other Windows and Mac machines should be able to stream music from the DAAP server using iTunes, and our Linux box should be able to do the same with a common player like Rhythmbox. However, the only server that people seemed to be using was Firefly, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to install it — it hasn’t been updated since 2007, and there’s never been a “stable” release of it for Windows.

Following some more hesitation and searching around, I decided that Firefly was probably the only free option available, so I gave it a shot. I downloaded the latest nightly build, from May 17 2007, and installed it. The installation went smoothly, but it didn’t seem to serve any music. Looking over the logs (which really aren’t user friendly), it appeared that Firefly might be having permissions issues, so I decided to modify the service to use my own login credentials. That seemed to do the trick.

Whew. I think we have streaming music in the house now. It’s still amazing that the DAAP server everyone’s using hasn’t been updated in the last three years…

Thoughts on my Canon S90

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

I’ve now had a few weeks to play with my new Canon S90, so I decided to write up some of my thoughts on it.

First of all, this isn’t intended to be a comprehensive review — you can find those at the imaging resourcephotography blog, etc. I’m just going to mentoin a few things I was surprised by, even after reading all of the reviews.

Size

When I first received the camera, the first thing I noticed was that it was significantly smaller than I expected. It’s about the same size as my old Fuji Finepix f31fd, and significantly smaller than Pamela’s Canon SX200. It fits comfortably in the front pockets of my khakis, and snugly (i.e. not comfortably) in my jeans. For some reason, I expected a high-end compact camera to be larger than the typical point-and-shoots I usually see people with.

Controls

One of the interesting things about the S90 is that it has a rotating ring around the lens that imitates the zoom/focus rings on an SLR lens. The ring is programable, such that it can be changed to adjust ISO, white balance, aperature, shutter speed, zoom, manual focus, etc. The idea is interesting, but the imitation is imprecise. For example, if you set the ring to adjust optical zoom, each discrete click of the ring changes the zoom distance some predefined amount, e.g. 28-35-50. Also, there’s a significant lag between the time you turn the ring and the time the lens motor actually kicks in to change the zoom distance.

I found the ring much more useful for controls that are inherently discrete and take effect immediately, e.g. ISO, and ended up leaving the ring at it default setting, which is to control something different depending on the camera mode. For example, in aperture priority mode, the ring controls aperture.

A complaint that I read in several reviews of the S90 is that the exposure compensation control ring on the back of the camera is too loose, which makes it too easy to accidentally change the exposure compensation. I found this problem on my own camera as well. However, it never became a major issue – I always check the camera settings before taking a picture, and it was natural for me to adjust the exposure compensation if it wasn’t what I wanted. In the end, this turned out to be a non-issue for me.

Lens

One of the S90’s major sellings points is its f/2 IS lens, and here it really delivers. I managed to capture a lot of low light pictures that my Fuji Finepix f31fd would have choked. Note, however, that the widest aperture is only available at wideangle — f/2 at 28mm, f/2.5 at 35mm, and f/3.2 at 50mm. Still, it was wonderful to be able to take available-light pictures with a compact camera.

Final thoughts

The S90 is a wonderful camera, and handily replaces my old Fuji Finepix f31fd. When I went biking across the Golden Gate Bridge a few weeks ago, the S90 would have been perfect because a DSLR would have been too bulky (IMO) for walking and riding around town.

However, despite all of its manual controls, the S90 is not a DSLR replacement. This was most recently obvious at Pamela’s brother’s graduation last week, where my goal was to capture her brother walking across the stage, shaking hands with important-looking people with lots of medals. Here, I needed a wide aperature at both ~40mm (for the whole stage) and at ~70mm (for the closer shots) at a shutter speed fast enough to avoid motion blur. The S90 doesn’t cycle fast enough (it can take maybe one picture every two seconds), and it was also too slow at its telephoto end. However, it still made for a great video camera to complement the pictures from my DSLR.  =)

Ode to Delta… Not.

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

0 points to Delta for Customer Service this trip.

I’ve had some pretty bad experiences… flights delayed, flights overbooked, flights cancelled, etc… but previous airlines have always tried to make it up to me somehow… getting me a hotel for the night if I’m stuck overnight, giving me a flight voucher for the next time I fly, etc.

Today, I attempted to fly Delta from La Guardia, NYC to San Jose, CA with one layover in Minneapolis, MN.  We were on time for our first flight, which was scheduled to depart La Guardia at 2:28pm.  We were scheduled to arrive in Minneapolis at 4:30 and to depart again at 5:10 for San Jose.

Well, our first flight boarded mostly on time, although it took a little longer than necessary to board.  By the time we were actually ready to leave, we were already 15 minutes behind schedule.  We then sat at the terminal for another 15 minutes.  When we finally pulled out for the runway, we were told that we were facing about a 30 minute wait due to traffic congestion on the runway.  We proceeded to sit on the tarmac for another 30 minutes, in an extremely long line of planes, waiting to depart.

We successfully took off at 3:30pm, one hour late.  We were “rerouted” to take a more direct route, supposedly saving 20 minutes of flight time, and still proceeded to arrive in Minneapolis at 5:30pm, one hour late.

Given that our connection was scheduled to leave at 5:10… and was of course on time, it left without us.  When we offboarded our plane from LaGuardia, we were told to scan our next boarding pass over some scanner and it would print our new itinerary.

The new itinerary said we were now scheduled to depart Minneapolis at 7:05… the next morning, with a stopover in Salt Lake City.  It also said that our seats were unassigned… meaning the flight was overbooked and there was actually no guarantee we would have a seat.

This was sounding somewhat bad.  We asked customer service to check for any other flights that might be departing for the Bay Area, such as to San Francisco or Oakland.  Apparently Delta doesn’t fly to Oakland, and the only flight to SF was completely booked.

Resigned to having to stay in Minneapolis for the night, we asked for a hotel room. Generally, when flight problems have required me to stay overnight somewhere I did not intend to stay, the airline has put me up in a hotel room.  But… not Delta. Apparently it wasn’t Delta’s fault that our plane was delayed, and thus not Delta’s fault that we missed our connection and are stranded for the night… but they can get us a “discount” at their partnered hotels.  The manager honestly looked at me and told me that the mezzanine of the airport was open all night if I needed a place to sleep.

Ok, I can understand it being my fault if I was just late to the airport and missed my own flight… but to tell me it was my fault I missed my connection is asinine.

Further, the customer service representative told us that LaGuardia has been having construction on one of its runways, so a lot of its traffic has been getting rerouted and causing delays.  This tells me… that they already KNEW my flight was going to have delays getting off the runway.  Therefore, they should not have publicized my flight as arriving in Minneapolis at 4:30… because that would imply that it was going to take off right away, which they already knew it would not. Therefore, they were setting me up to miss my connection from the moment I bought the tickets… but it’s my fault.

It wasn’t until we went back later and asked to be put on Standby for the booked flight to San Francisco that they even considered it.  Fifteen minutes later, the lady came back and handed Ted 2 standby tickets saying “here” and then carried on with her evening.  Two hours later, we were finally awarded the last 2 standby tickets on a full flight.  And somehow, the seats were even next to each other.

We have never felt so wronged by an airline, nor so poorly treated by a customer service agent… but we’re home!

New camera on its way

Friday, March 19th, 2010

I bought myself a new compact camera, a Canon S90.  It took me a while to decide on this camera, so I thought I’d write a bit about my thought process.

Currently, I have a Canon XTi with a few lenses, my favorites being a Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 and a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8.  The Sigma is great as a light, flexible walk-around lens, and the Canon has served me well at weddings and dance competitions.  My other camera is a Fuji Finepix F31fd, which I’ve pretty much stopped using regularly because Pamela’s Canon SX200 is so much better in most situations.  I still carry the Fuji when I don’t want to be walking around conspicuously with a DSLR and I can’t use Pamela’s camera for one reason or another, but most of the time it just sits at the bottom of my backpack.

Originally I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to get a new DSLR body or a new compact camera, but I soon decided that I was much happier with my Canon XTi than my Fuji compact, so I decided to look for a new compact camera.

I wanted a camera that had the following:

  • Manual / aperture priority / shutter priority modes
  • Quick startup, fast focus, negligible shutter delay
  • Easy access to controls for exposure compensation, white balance, ISO, etc.
  • Large aperture wide-angle (at least f/2.8)
  • RAW support (nice to have)
  • As little noise as possible at higher ISOs
  • Compact enough to fit in a jacket pocket

I didn’t really care about the following:

  • HD video recording – 640×480 @ 24/30fps is fine with me
  • Scene modes – I  rarely used them on previous cameras
  • Optical viewfinder – great on my DSLR, but not worth the extra space it would take up on a compact
  • External flash / accessory mount – same as above

This naturally led me to the large-sensor and “prosumer” compact cameras, like the Panasonic GF-1, Panasonic LX3, and the Canon S90.  Early on in my research, I was leaning toward the Panasonic GF-1 with its 14-45mm (28-90mm 35mm equivalent) f/3.5-5.6 kit lens.  However, I didn’t really like how bulky this lens was, and I wasn’t happy with the lens’ f/3.5 maximum aperture.  I considered getting both this lens as well as the 20mm (40mm 35mm equivalent) f/1.7 pancake lens, but that would have been even more expensive and wouldn’t be as convenient.  At about that time, I realized that I really just wanted a simple compact camera that could take good pictures in most situations, without the bulk and hassle of an interchangeable lens system.

That realization pushed me toward the Panasonic LX3 and the Canon S90.  Both of these cameras are ~$400, which is still expensive for a compact, but much cheaper than the $800 GF1.  I read several reviews of each camera, and found that the two were well-matched in almost every aspect.  For example, I preferred the LX3’s fast 24-60mm (35mm equivalent) f/2-2.8 lens to the S90’s 28-105mm (35mm equivalent) f/2-4.9 lens, though the S90’s telephoto reach would certainly be more useful in a lot of situations.  The one thing that pushed me over the edge in favor of the Canon S90 was it’s retractable lens cover – once again, this was a just matter of convenience; I didn’t want to deal with the lens cover on the LX3.

I should be getting the camera in a few days.  I’ll report back after I’ve spent some time with it.  =)

Have you seen one of these before?

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

Several weeks ago, I found a strange device in the TV cabinet that the previous owners of our house had left for us. It was screwed into the wood on the bottom of one of the TV cabinet’s storage spaces, and had a standard power plug coming out of it. Curious, I took it out and ripped it apart. Here’s what it looked like:

One end Two parallel copper plates inside The copper plates fit inside as shown. The other side

Since I still had no idea what this was, I sent out a tweet with a picture asking if anyone knew. A few people suggested that it might be a capacitor, but the plates are too far away to have any capacitance. Then my cousin Steve suggested that it might be a old-skool power strip, and pointed me to some similar pictures. Turns out he’s right; I guess he’s old enough to have seen them before.  😉

Check it out:

A power strip!