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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Behind the Images

You may have noticed that I've been very quiet on this blog for a very long time. The reason is that I've been spending a lot of time pursuing my other main interest: photography. I have found the time I invest in that to be very rewarding, so it occupies all of my available free time. The purpose of this very short post is to point you to where you can find me when I'm quiet here.

Shaving, A Faster Alternative?

So, remember how I said that the best tech was low-tech? is...but only if you have lots of time on your hands. In the months that have elapsed since I switched to a double-edged safety razor, I've learned one important thing: Yes, safety razors shave amazingly well and are very cheap, but they are very, very, unforgiving.

I found that I had to focus very intently to shave, all the while being very slow and methodical to avoid cutting myself. I also had to constantly reapply pre-shave cream and shaving cream, as well as frequently wet the razor blade to compensate for the lack of a lubrication strip found on modern cartridge razors. Because time is something I have a very short supply of in my harried life with kids, I've decided to set down, at least temporarily, my safety razor and try another alternative to the Gillette shaving cabal: The Dollar Shave Club

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Safety Razors, Sometimes the Best Tech is Low-Tech

Well time for something a little different. In a world that’s increasingly becoming more and more high-tech, I’ve decided to opt for a piece of technology that is decidedly low-tech. Perhaps you've also been as frustrated as I have with the rising cost of cartridge razors and their blades. Maybe you've even read this satirical article and wondered how many Gillette executives actually think that way. I know with prices of $20-$30 for an eight pack of blades, I’m no longer enamored by promises that the latest razor with a vibrating handle, tilting head, five blades, and now even a ball head, is going to give me the best shave experience of my life.

With countless other interests aiming to take a chunk out of my wallet, I’ve decided to go back to a century-old technology. The tried-and-tested double-edged safety razor. These have seen a resurgence as of late, with some people touting what I call the “spa experience” of shaving. For me, the motivation is much more basic. I simply want to save money, while still getting an excellent shave. If you have similar interests, read on to hear my experience and find some useful resources to help you get started as well.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Recover Stolen Camera Gear with Lenstag

Have you ever been the victim of camera theft? Thankfully I haven't, but ever since a colleague of mine recounted his months-long journey to recover his DSLR and lenses, I've been giving the topic a lot of thought. His story involved many calls to the the police, and hours spent scouring the Internet to find his camera's serial number embedded in EXIF data on Flickr. He then painstakingly followed the activities of the thieves on social media until he had enough evidence for the police to approach them. Luckily for the rest of us, there's a potentially useful (and free) service that aims to make the processes of locating stolen camera gear a little easier:

Saturday, January 11, 2014

PSA: Level Up Images with Lightroom

This is going to be one of the shortest posts I've ever written. I'd like to take this opportunity to make a public service announcement. If you have any interest whatsoever in photography, please do yourself (plus the world) a favor and take the time to learn Adobe Lightroom. It isn't even a quarter as difficult as Photoshop to learn, yet it will do wonders for your photographs.

It wasn't all that long ago that I used to think the auto enhance features of programs like Picasa were sufficient to improve my images. If I could invent a time machine, the first thing I would do would be to go back in time and yell at myself to start using Lightroom (okay well maybe after I tell myself to buy Apple and Adobe stock, along with some Bitcoins).

I learned through a combination of friends with similar interests, blog posts, and tutorials. Here's a good compilation of links to get you started. If you don't believe me, check out the before and after examples below (may not work correctly on a mobile browser). All edits were done with basic Lightroom tools and didn't require any complex masking, layering, etc. Some edits are subtle, but often that is all it takes to make an average picture great.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Getting Published Isn't Just for the Pros

If you are an aspiring photographer hoping to turn pro, or even a hobbyist like myself, you've likely spent hours shooting and processing images, comparing your work to the work of pros, and finally concluding, “man I suck.” That’s how I’ve felt ever since I took up photography as a hobby in 2010. It’s not necessarily a bad way to feel as it keeps me grounded and pushes me to get better. However, it’s nice every once in a while to receive some validation that I don’t quite suck as much as I think. It’s especially nice when that validation comes from a source as prestigious as the Smithsonian. Read on to find out how I was able to get an image published in Air and Space magazine, as well as some tips I learned along the way.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Can Unseat Dropbox?

The cloud storage space is becoming increasingly crowded with competitors. There are so many, in fact, that I’m sure I could piece together 200GB or more in cloud storage space just from the free tiers that most cloud services provide. One name still stands out from the throng; Dropbox. They were one of the earliest entrants to provide file sync capabilities, and now they've got a massive stable of over 100,000 apps that make use of their platform. Despite all that Dropbox does right, they’re still expensive. That leaves the door open for competitors, and one that recently caught my eye is

You may have read my Bitcasa post. If you did, you’ll know that despite Bitcasa’s unlimited storage, it doesn't have the all-important file sync capability necessary to replace Dropbox. Copy, on the other hand, most certainly does. At first blush, it seems to match Dropbox feature for feature at a price point that is less than half of what Dropbox charges. Read on to find out if I think Copy has what it takes to stop Dropbox’s huge momentum.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Feed Your Mind with Feedly

If you read this blog with any regularity, you’ll notice that I haven’t been posting very often the past few months. The reason for that is that I have a great many things clawing for my attention. Chief among them are work, late-night classes, my two little boys, and my photography hobby. Despite all that, I still like to stay up to speed on new technology news. An awesome tool that helps me sift through all of the electronic noise these days is Feedly, a cloud-based RSS reader that can aggregate a vast number of Internet sources into a beautiful, easy to consume, and customizable view.

RSS readers have been available for more than a decade. The most popular of those, Google Reader, is the reason I’m writing this post. Many online have lamented Google’s recent announcement detailing the death of Reader. I too was annoyed at first. Google is notorious for experimenting, keeping everything in “beta”, and then killing a product you've come to rely on with little notice. In this case though, I’m actually excited. Without the torrent of negative press surrounding Google’s decision, I would never have discovered the awesomeness that is Feedly.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Rediscover Photography with the Fuji X100S

Just a couple of short months ago, I was browsing one of my favorite tech blogs (Engadget) when I ran across an announcement for the Nikon Coolpix A, a relatively tiny camera with a massive APS-C sensor crammed in. As a gadget-head, that certainly got my attention. However, what ended up piquing my interest even further wasn't the article, but rather a number of reader comments referencing the Fuji X100S. I like to pride myself in being well appraised of new technology announcements, but here was something I had never heard of. “Fuji? Didn't they used to make film? What are they doing now?” I thought. 

I can say with absolute certainty that I’m now fully aware of what Fuji is doing, and I’m very impressed. So impressed, in fact, that I quickly ditched my Sony RX100, cashed in a bunch of Southwest Airlines miles (that I earned while playing the frequent flyer game) for Amazon gift cards, and bought myself a shiny new X100S. 

After a few weeks with it, I’ve decided that it’s time to share my impressions. I thought I had learned the basics of photography in the three years since I took up this hobby, but the X100S has taught me that I have so much more to learn. Even those of you who have been shooting for much longer than I have, will definitely want to take note of this camera. It very well could encourage you to rediscover photography all over again. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Essential Image Comparison Tools

Last year, I wrote a post about some great hardware comparison tools to use when looking for your next camera. As cool as those sites are, they are only part of the camera research toolbox. What should matter more for your next camera is the quality of the images it produces. On that note, I recently came across two image comparison tools that I thought I should share. Both of these tools offer handy side-by-side comparison images of the exact same subjects, taken with various cameras, across a range of ISO sensitivities.

There’s no question that these tools fully amount to “pixel peeping.” That means looking at images at 100% resolution and comparing the smallest details. While I think doing that can be valuable for comparing one camera to the next, try to stop doing that once you actually get the camera. A memorable image can be blurry, noisy, improperly framed, poorly lit, etc. The subject, story, emotions, and so much more, are far more important than any pixel-level imperfections. See what I mean by checking out this Anti-Pixel Peeping thread.

That said, I like to know that I’ve done everything I can (within budget) to ensure that my gear isn't what’s preventing me from getting the shots that I want. These tools help me know what a camera is capable of under ideal conditions. I strongly recommend bookmarking the following two sites for your next camera search.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Automate Your Life with IFTTT

I ran across a pretty slick service the other day that allows you to setup electronic triggers for performing certain automated tasks. The fast growing “If This, Then That” (IFTTT) service ties into a myriad of other services such as Facebook, Gmail, Google Calendar, Dropbox, SkyDrive, and many more. Anytime an action occurs in one of those services ("If This"), you can instruct the service to automatically perform a certain task ("Then That"). Many mundane tasks can be performed automatically by IFTTT, saving precious time each day.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Can Bitcasa Challenge Dropbox?

I think I must be slowing down in my “old” age, because I managed to completely miss an announcement last year on the new cloud storage service Bitcasa. At the time, the small start-up had recently started accepting public beta testers. It wasn't until they came out of beta and formally launched the service a couple of weeks ago, that I realized Dropbox may have some serious heat to contend with.

Bitcasa is similar to Dropbox in many ways, but dissimilar in one very important way; infinite storage. If you've read my Dropbox post, you’ll know that I absolutely love Dropbox, but ultimately that loves comes at a price.  Currently I’m paying $100 a year for 100GB of Dropbox storage (not counting referrals). If I want more space, I’m forced to spend an additional $100 a year for 200GB. With Bitcasa, that same $100 gets me unlimited amounts of space. Done deal right? Cancel Dropbox and make the switch? If only life in the cloud were so simple.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Maximize the Value of Google Voice with Talkatone

My last post was all about using Google Voice to replace your landline. This week, I wanted to tell you how you can get even more value out of Google Voice by using it to make free calls over WiFi from iOS or Android. If you've ever seen the insane rates mobile carriers charge while roaming, you’ll quickly see why this could be of incredible value.

Right now you might be thinking, “Can’t I already do that from the Google Voice app?” Actually no you can’t, and that's one of the most common misconceptions people have about Google Voice. Let me attempt to clear that up if possible.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Say Goodbye to Landlines with Obihai

It seems like fewer and fewer people these days have a landline phone. There is something to be said about having one in certain emergency scenarios, but I think for most, the $30 to $45 a month costs are simply too much to justify. Years ago, I thought I’d try to save a little cash and go with a Vonage line. It worked well for a while, but costs steadily rose and I found myself using it less and less. Eventually, I decided that even paying $18 a month for my entry-level Vonage plan was a waste of money. Thankfully, I found the perfect solution that allows me to retain my phone number without having to spend a dime in monthly fees.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Beginner’s Guide to Taking the DSLR Plunge

I recently had the opportunity to upgrade my DSLR through an awesome online deal. In the process of setting up and playing with my new camera, I got to thinking about the road I've taken from casual point-and-shoot photography to using more serious photography gear. I decided that rather than bore you to tears with a deeply technical review of the camera, I thought I’d take this time to relate why I finally took the DSLR plunge and cover some of the things that you should consider if you’re on the verge of taking the same plunge.

My recent upgrade involved moving from a Canon T2i to a Canon T4i for only $130. I did this by purchasing the deal described in this post, and then selling my T2i body plus the 18-55mm lens from the T4i kit. It was a relatively minor upgrade, but I ended up with a camera that has a faster processor, articulating touch screen, wireless master capability, and better low-light performance for a relative pittance. Wait, $130 is a pittance? Not really, but once you take the DSLR plunge, you’ll see why it starts to feel that way.

So why do I call it a plunge? Aren't we just talking about buying a nicer camera in the same way that one might compare a Honda Accord to a BMW 5 series?

No, not at all.

I was once guilty of thinking that way about DSLRs, but I've come to realize that they are really more like Pandora’s box than a simple camera upgrade. A DSLR most definitely is a nicer camera than a point-and-shoot, but you won’t necessarily end up with better pictures, and it can’t always replace a point-and-shoot. It took me a very long time to realize why, and I’d like to help others avoid some of that frustration. Read on to find out what I mean and learn if you're ready to take the plunge.