Midnight Madness, Thanksgiving 2010

At midnight on Thanksgiving, I was out at a couple of major national retail chains. They were packed. Lines formed that wrapped around the building. The tents were already pitched outside of Best Buy for those waiting for tickets at 3:00 to get their new video game system or high end TV at 5:00 a.m.

Meanwhile, the 24 hour food store down the street was empty. They had no Black Friday circular.


What business lesson did you just learn from this? That’s right — nobody cares if your bananas are only 79 cents a pound this weekend. They can get ’em tomorrow.

Why the New Apple TV Is Now Interesting

Things are getting interesting in Apple Land. The new iOS version that came out in the last week includes AirPlay, which is a potentially killer feature. While there are some limits on it — such as not streaming videos show on the iPhone 4 — it brings a major new integration into the Apple environment. Now, you can stream pictures, videos, or music on your iPhone or iPod Touch straight to the Apple TV. This is (A) a very cool bit of technological wizardry and (B) a potential game changer for many of us.

I have an old-fashioned Apple TV now, with a big beefy hard drive. I’ve used it over the last nearly three years to watch mostly video podcasts. I’ve downloaded a few TV shows through iTunes on it, and even bought a movie. But it’s most always been a video podcast player — iFanboy, HD Nation, a couple TED talks, D-Town, etc.

The problem is, for whatever reason, the Apple TV doesn’t connect to my Mac anymore. This might have something to do with the time I attempted to hack the box to install Boxee. Ever since, the box hasn’t found the home network. So I’ve been forced to manually download shows I want to watch. It’s not a big deal, but it does remove some of the automation that makes using such a box a no-brainer.

With AirPlay, my iPhone — always synced up with my laptop — can now be used to store the podcasts I want to watch. I can also easily and neatly play ANY video on the iPhone (in the iTunes app) to the TV. Why not just connect to the computer my main iTunes library is on? That computer isn’t always on, and it’s two floors above my TV, so running upstairs to turn it on is a pain.

This also allows me to keep track of what I’ve watched. The problem with a purely streaming service is that I don’t always watch the entirety of a podcast in one sitting. It gets broken up into two or three pieces. If I’m purely streaming, then I have to restart and wait for the stream to catch up to where I was, or I have to scrub ahead to the point I left off at and wait for the stream to find that spot. If the video is stored on my iPhone, then the iPhone will remember instantly where I was and start playing from there.

Another thing: Although I haven’t read any reviews that mention this or have tested it, AirPlay is supposed to work with any device within range of any AppleTV. Now my iPhone can be a mini video library for my daughter. I can put a few episodes of Dora the Explorer on it, and stream it to a friend’s TV with an Apple TV connected and keep her entertained. Or I can share whatever other videos I have stockpiled on there. Suddenly, I’m happy I paid the extra for the 32GB iPhone.

All of this is available for $99 for a box a fourth the size of the current one. The only downside is that my heating bill might go up, since the original Apple TVs were known sources of fireplace-level heat in any room they sat in.

I can’t help but think that this is only the beginning of the ways the various Apple devices can find to work together. I long ago replaced the simple remote that came with the Apple TV with the iPhone app. But what’s next? I don’t know, but it ought to be fun getting there.

I just know this — I had no interest in the Apple TV before this iOS update. Now there’s a killer feature that puts it back on my radar again.

Shooting the Band

Here’s a quick look at the band I shot last weekend, squawBrook. (Warning: MySpace link.)

Of course, you need a banner: 20101114-IMG_2427

99% of the pics so far wind up as black and whites. This one was bright enough to stay in color. I love the way this worked out. The wider angle lens (28mm) worked beautifully here: 20101114-IMG_2617_filtered

More of the band. NoiseNinja did an amazing job here: 20101114-IMG_2658_filtered

Amazon Toy Ban


This was interesting.

I have an Amazon Seller account. I use it to sell some comics and other books or DVDs, the money from which can be re-spent at Amazon. I usually throw a bunch of stuff up there and see if any of it sells for a few months, before Amazon delists it. I think you get 90 days.

This morning I got an email that two of my items were being blocked from the store until the new year. Why? They’re toys: a Waldorf and Statler action figure set that was an exclusive to Wizard World: Chicago a few years back, and a Simpsons figure set.

They’re really more collectibles than toys, but I guess Amazon wants to save themselves the hassle of dealing with smaller third parties mucking up Christmas for the kids.

No, it’s not an outright ban. I just didn’t qualify to stay on. I didn’t look it up to see what those qualifications are, because it doesn’t bother me. I just thought it was interesting, is all.

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My New Workhorse: The Canon 60D

Here’s a post I saved as a draft a couple of weeks back and never published. I should have done it at the time, but here it is now. I don’t think too much of it is “dated,” really…


Three years ago, I decided to buy a digital SLR. After a few months of selling off a chunk of my DVD collection, I was able to buy the entry-level Canon Rebel XTi. (And I haven’t missed a single one of those DVDs. The big ticket item — an out of print “Reboot” DVD or three — is even coming back to shelves in the next few months.) The XTi was the first sub-$1000 DSLR to the market, was insanely popular, and Canon was just announcing its successor, the XSi. The latter didn’t provide much of an upgrade, I thought, so I snapped up a lower-priced XTi at the beginning of 2008 with a couple of lenses.

Now, all these years later, I sold off a tiny chunk of my comics collection to pay for a new camera. Special thanks, first of all, to Robert Kirkman, for “The Walking Dead” and “Invincible.” Selling off my original copies of those comics paid for three-quarters of the new camera. As a bonus, I’m not missing anything, since I have all those issues in hardcover reprint form. The only thing I really “lost” in it was a comic that had a letter of mine printed in it. If “Walking Dead Weekly” includes the original letters columns (doubtful), I’ll pick it back up and be happy.

That’s the origin story for my new Canon 60D, a camera that “serious” camera “enthusiasts” have been busy badmouthing since its announcement (they don’t want to jump from the 50D all the way to the 7D, I guess), but which fits me perfectly. It’s a dramatic step up from the XTi. From an image gathering point of view, the biggest thing is the improved low light/lower noise performance. I’m stuck with 18 megapixel pictures, but there’s no choice there in the current Canon line-up. From a construction point of view, I have the neat scroll wheel on the back in addition to the crosspad. There’s also the display on top of the camera to tell me the ISO/Aperture/Shutter speed settings. (I assume they’re useful because they use so much less power than the display screen on the back?) And, as a huge bonus, there’s built-in flash control. I don’t need to use those Cactus triggers anymore, or the Zebra cable, to control my off-camera 430 EX II flash, either manually or in E-TTL. This may be the one detail that made me spend the extra money instead of buying the cheaper Rebel T2i camera, whose specs are remarkably similar, otherwise.

It’s a big upgrade to my photography, and I’m having a lot of fun. There are a couple of drawbacks, but we’ll cover those as I go along here. Let’s take it step-by-step, after the break:

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My First Attempt at Band Photography

I shot my first “bar band” last night. I know a band member, so getting permission wasn’t a problem. The problem was, well, the lighting. Or lack thereof. The band brought their own lights — a bank of colored lights that sat on the floor in front of the drummer and changed in rhythm with the music, basically. But that was it. The lead singers stood in front of those lights, so they were always backlit, with no light from the front.

This left me with one lens that could do the job — my new Canon 28mm f/1.8. Everything else I had started at f/2.8, which was fine for the drummer who had a light on over his head, or for the guitarists off on the side, where the flashing lights would often spill onto them. But it was not good enough anywhere else, unless I wanted to shoot at 1/30th of a second or less and hope for the best with the movement.

I missed my 50mm f/1.8 this weekend more than ever. (Sadly, it broke on me a month or two back.) But I also am more determined to replace it someday with the 50mm f/1.4, just for the extra bit of light that would let in for such an environment. Of course, I also want the 85mm f/1.8 so I can take tighter pictures, but that’s photography, isn’t it? There’s always something else to buy.

Finding a place to take pictures was a bit of a problem, too: Small bar, lots of people standing around. I spent most of the time on one knee off to the right side of the stage, shooting up at the band. Occasionally, I would stand up with my back to a pole so as not to block too many views. But at that angle, mic stands started to get into the picture in uncomfortable ways. After the first set, I repositioned to the opposite side of the stage when a spot along the wall opened up. I shot there mostly standing up, but knelt down once in a while. Then, finally, I got into the side area almost behind the stage where I could get one more look at the band.

Shot most of the night at a ridiculous ISO 4000 and 1/40th of a second. Yes, manual mode. Just hit burst mode and prayed for the best. That’s how I took 900+ pics. Most of it will be garbage. The funny thing is that every picture is a different color. If I took ten pics in a row, those lights on the floor would cycle through twice, so you can see the rotation of colors — blue, purple, red, orange, white. So a single shot might have four different looks, and hopefully one of them will be sharp enough to use.

I would have preferred shooting 1/80th or 1/125th of a second, but there wasn’t enough light to get anything on the sensor at that speed. And cranking it up to ISO 6400 was just too noisy for me to deal with.

In the end, I’m thinking that most of these shots will be converted to black and white. From what little I’ve seen of them so far, they’re extremely grainy. ISO 4000, even on a Canon 60D is pushing it. And at f/1.8, I was never getting more than one band member in focus at a time.

I also learned just how large the files are on an 18 megapixel camera than a 10 megapixel camera. I’m pushing 25 MB per file now, or about 40 pics per Gig on the memory card. I’m pretty sure that’s more than twice as much per file, for 80% more megapixels. I blew through the 16GB and 8GB cards like they were nothing. And now I have a hard drive issue at home, because I’ve run out of space from the 60D pics in the last month.


Sorry I don’t have any pictures to accompany this writeup with. They’re still converting to DNG and getting loaded up into a LightRoom catalog in the background. Sadly, it’s LR2. I should be getting LR3 in December, at which time I might have to go back to these pictures with the better noise reduction. For now, I’m hoping Noise Ninja and LR2 will suffice.

More to come. . .