Saturday, November 15, 2008

Saturday Diversions

Well, it’s Saturday.  It’s cool, bright, and lazy.

I usually have a pile of bookmarks I’ve noted and collected each week, but this week has been slower than most.  I have a few collections of subjects to get up, but so far I have been feeling pretty lazy.

Watched the Notre Dame – Navy game.  It was really exciting.  Went outside for a brief bit to pick up yard litter and stuff overturned from the strong winds over the last 24 hours.  I’d like to test my wireless connection out in the back-yard, but it is just too windy to be enjoyable out there.

I do have plans to make a pot of chili for the family.  Got a new recipe to try out. Seemed appropriate for the cold night forecast for tonight.  I haven’t done much baking for a while, but I might also make some peanut-butter/chocolate bars again as well.  Alvis and I tried about a month ago, but the big mistake was going with margarine rather than real butter.  The bottom layer came out mealy.  Ick.  Nothing beats butter.

Dell USB HID Keyboard and WinPE headaches 

I’m still banging my head against the wall with my VistaPE building sessions at work.

For a recap, see Rainy-Day Placeholder Linkage: It’s a PE 2.0/VistaPE thing…

To summarize, I have to create a WinPE 2.0 based live boot CD that has had PGP encryption drivers “injected” to allow access to whole disk encrypted systems.  My preferred platform for WinPE 2.0 is VistaPE.  I can successfully build a PGP/PE combo with a pure WAIK build but that just nets me a command-line box.  Not very “sexy”.

I can build a VistaPE/WAIK build that is sexy and has PGP, only the Root USB HID keyboard driver used by our Dell Optiplex systems won’t load.  I’ve installed an on-screen keyboard tool as a workaround, but it is clunky-sexy.

The D-Man attended a TechNet session last week here in Houston and brought me back some awesome goodies.  Biggest was a “real” Vista Ultimate setup DVD with a 1-year promo license.  I’m less interested in installing Vista with it, but it has become golden as it now allows me to build full “Vista” based VistaPE disks instead of relying on the Vista WAIK wim file.  Really sexy.

So now it gets really weird.  I successfully build a Vista base VistaPE WinPE 2.0 disk.  I also successfully injected the PGP drivers on it.  I copied the resulting WIM file to my bootable USB stick build and tested it on the Dell Optiplex.  Worked 100% perfectly.  Full VistaPE environment and keyboard worked perfectly.  So did the PGP drivers. Awesome.

But when I burned the same ISO file to CD, the PGP driver load causes a BSOD in the boot disk.  It works off USB but not off CD.  Strange.

So I continue to work through the driver loading issues.  I’m determined to get it to work.

Lego Building

Although tonight’s schedule at the Valca den is to eat chili and watch a classic movie or two with the girls, I might also try to divert my weakened brain cells by doing some more Lego building.

Mom got me a few Star Wars Lego sets for my birthday last month. I built a mini-kit in bed one night, but the two bigger sets remain in the box.

I noted this week that Lego loses EU trademark on bricks.  We grew up with Lego blocks in our home and had several large tubs filled with them.  I think Mom still does have them somewhere in her home.  Every now and then a wanna-be brick would make it in.  These were like weeds.  They looked pretty but we tossed them as soon as they were discovered.  Lego has always been tops in our book due to their quality.  Everything else just doesn’t satisfy.

For days when you don’t want to scatter the bricks, there is also the Digital Designer by Lego.  It’s a free download that lets you design and build virtual Lego models.  If you are so enamored by your choice, you can always purchase the custom build kit from Lego.  That’s pretty cool.

Flickr Voyeurism

I still haven’t had the fiscal courage to help our nation’s ailing economy by making a DSLR camera purchase.

I keep going around and around on the choices.  My photography friend at work (as well as my brother) both recommend the Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTI, or the SIGMA DP2, but now I am leaning towards something from the Olympus E-System Digital SLR mid-range line.

To keep fueling my jonesing, I have been spending time browsing through the loads of great photography work to be found on Flickr.  However, browsing and finding the best works is daunting.

To that end I have been using two specialized “Flickr aggregators” to help speed my image surfing.

Scout: Find your photographs in Flickr’s Explore – Created by BigHugeLabs, it allows for image collection loads from random artists who have made Flickr Explore.  It’s really nice and I’ve found a number of artists in particular I have bookmarked for future reference.

Flickr Leech – Created by Andrew Houser is simply amazing.  Load a collection for a particular day or search for images based on a keyword.  The interface is really pleasing and it is a joy to search for specific images.  Just how long Flickr Leech is allowed to continue is in some doubt.  See Thomas Hawk’s post “Flickr Censors Popular Flickr API Developer, Developer Threatens to Kill Flickr Application FlickrLeech This Week” to get the background.  I hope it survives.

--Claus

Update/Tip:  Figured out there were also some Flickr Groups that specialized in the particular DSLR cameras I am considering.  What a fantastic way to really see just what kind of imaging each camera is capable of delivering in the hands of an amateur or professional photographer!

All of them look pretty amazing!

6 comments:

Gary Berg said...

Claus, the Olympus E-series cameras are really nice. I've used both an E-500 and E-510 (current). The kit lenses that come with the bodies are pretty good quality, better than kit lenses you would get with most other DSLR kits.

I've got the E-510, 14-42 and 40-150. The 40-150 is wonderfully compact, both lenses share the same 58mm filter size. The E-510 adds image stabilization over the E-410.

The E-?20 series that is out now is similar to the 410/510, but the sensor is slightly improved (better dynamic range). They also support wireless flash if you buy the external xxR flashes, which is cool.

I bought the E-510 2-lens kit just when the E-520 was coming out. The price was attractive and it was available right at that moment. I have only slight regrets, as I'd have paid another $150-200 for the E-520 kit. I also believe the E-520 may not came with the same kit of lenses.

What first got me going on the Olympus E-series was that it has the "dust buster" to clean dust off the sensor.

What convinced me on Olympus about 3-4 years ago was I walked into a Circuit City near my dad's and they had a Canon Rebel, Nikon D40, Minolta 5D, and Olympus E-500. The E-500 felt best in my hands, and confirmed for me that it was a good choice for me. I bought an E-500 kit about 3 weeks later...

A great forum with information on the Olympus E-series is www.Fourthirdsphoto.com, and you've probably found the DPReview Olympus DSLR forum.

I like that IS in the Olympus series (like the Sony) works on every lens. Also, if you are into real wide-angle they just released a 9-18mm zoom (35mm equivalent of 18-36) which is reasonably affordable.

Frankly, you can't make a really wrong decision on any camera...

Gary Berg

Gary Berg said...

Claus,

Another comment would be to consider the Samsung G1, and consider waiting for the Olympus micro-4/3rds entry (G1 is micro-4/3ds too). The new u4/3rds line is interesting, but it won't have the focus speed that a DSLR does. But it does have the larger sensor.

I'm not sure what pushes you towards a DSLR; if you used to shoot an SLR and want to get back into it in digital then you fall into the same category a friend of mine does, who is happy with his new E-500. A true DSLR will always focus faster, and is more flexible because you can exchange the lenses. But the smaller-sensor cameras can be awfully good.

In addition to my E-510 I also have a Canon G9 (now replaced in the lineup by the G10). It's a VERY nice camera, quite capable, and produces very good pictures. I use it as my smaller travel camera; when I go on "big" vacations (like Oregon this summer) I take the E-510, for short weekend trips I usually take the G9.

Claus said...

@ Gary - "I'm not sure what pushes you towards a DSLR..."

That is a really great question to be asked!

My dad was a semi-pro photographer (in my mind anyway) and our home was filled with his macro-nature photos, and many countryside images from his tour in Vietnam. Couple that with his Pentax camera, lenses galore, and developing stuff and I was hooked. Mom had a great eye as well and favored a grainy black and white style.

My work was limited to the Olympus Trip-35 hand-me-down they gave me. It was still awesome great and somehow have managed to hold on to that camera. If I have to take outdoor film pictures, I would reach for it this day without hesitation.

When Lavie and I got married, turns out she was quite the photographer as well and brought along a Canon AE-1 with a small collection of lenses. We had a lot of fun taking photos with it. Eventually, just as the digital photography age was dawning and consumer 35mm cameras had reached their zenith, we pooled our meager newly-wed resources and splurged on a Canon Rebel XT (35mm) body and a mid-range lens kit.

We used it for about two years and it still sits proudly on a shelf (batteries long removed). I think we just mistimed the arrival of the digital revolution in consumer photography. (Sigh).

The girls both have little (but great) Kodak EasyShare line point-n-shoot digital cameras that take quite nice causal pictures. I guess they are the Trip 35 cameras of this era. Our daughter is particularly creative with hers.

I was aware of the Canon G series line and have peeked around at them from time to time as a sort of compromise, but I don't think I would really be as happy in the long-term. Same goes for the Sigma DP1/2 line (to be perfectly self-honest). They seem to be quite good cameras overall and appeal to a particular class of rangefinder-style photography, but I have to confess, the Canon G line would probably win out over the DP in the end in terms of actual buyability in our home. It would be more practical between the two.

Once one gets used to the composition and depth-of-field control with a SLR it is hard to go back. I really want something to give me a bit more artistic control over composition, and being able to adjust with different lenses for different conditions really would be a big plus.

I understand the basics of traditional film photography, but wouldn't consider myself anything more than an over-informed novice. I do want to get a tool that I will be proud of and will challenge me so I can push myself to learn more of the advanced skills that the above-average amateur photographer has.

Finally, as I mentioned, the kid has a good artistic sense of her own and really has impressed me with her photography skills. I'm hoping she gets a chance to take a formal photography class in high-school. Having a true DSLR camera might really expand her skills as well. She is already quite the traditional artist and may go into graphic arts as a career so I think this would be one more skill for her add to her many talents.

I really do like the feature set the Olympus line has as well as the body size. And, again, maybe I'm leaning more that way just because I remain smitten with that little Trip 35.

--Cheers!

Claus said...

@ Gary -- Oh, and thanks also for the detail you shared in the first comment. Somehow in my mind I thought that I had responded to your first comment. I think I got sidetracked spending time on the link you provided there!

Your comment provided a great perspective and has given me quite a lot to consider as well.

I really like those "first-hand" real-world reviews!

--Claus.

Gary Berg said...

Claus,

Well, if the "P&S" generation of cameras leaves you wanting, a DSLR will certainly give you more capability. I mentioned the G9 only because if you were unaware of the high-end P&S generation I wanted to be sure you knew such things exist (my first two digitals were a Canon Pro 90 IS and a Konica-Minolta A2 - both sort of "bridge" cameras).

I think an E-510/520 will be close ins ize to a Canon Rebel XT. If you have some good Canon EF lenses then the Digital Rebel line is a good idea, but if you just have kit lenses I'd not let them determine what to buy.

As I said before I'd read so much about DSLR dust on the mirror I almost skipped DSLRs completely, until I twigged that the Olympus camera had a really good dust remover. As far as I know nobody does better dust removal than Olympus, even thought Canon (and Nikon I think) have added similar capabilities to their lines.

If you want small, look at the E-4x0 series; no image stabilization but they are quite small, almost (jacket) pocketable. But the E-5x0 is a good choice for a lot of people, especially if you can get the kit with the 14-42 and 40-150. That gives you the equivalent of 28-300mm in just two lenses, which are both compact and fairly high quality.

I also have the Olympus 14-54, which is in their mid-level line of lenses, but on vacation this summer I brought it but ended up using the 14-42 most of the time.

Like most other DSLRs, most of the E series line is not waterproof; the Olympus cameras are no better or worse than anything else. But the E-1 (older model) and E-3 are both weather sealed, and pretty resistant to wet if used with a weather sealed lens (like the 14-54). If you have an occasional need for this capability, the E-1 is available used for very little $300-400, I think) these days. I'd not like one as my primary camera myself (too heavy), but it is a pro-level camera. And an E-1 will use all the Olympus lenses, sharing them with what might be considered your "usual" camera.

If you want to continue this discussion by email, let me know and I'll send you an email...

Nathaniel said...

This is cool that you are such the photographer. I'm interested to see what camera you get (if you do).

I actually have a photoblog (lostinephotography.blogspot.com), so you can take a look at what kind of stuff I do. I only have a point-and-shoot (with manual control, thank goodness!), so I work with what I have. And I don't yet understand SLR lenses and focal lengths and whatnot...