Sunday, July 22, 2007

Friday, July 20, 2007

New Camera Time

I purchased my first digital camera, a Canon PowerShot G3 in early 2003 and I've taken around 13,000 pictures with it. It's always been a great camera with a lot of great features, most of which I've never used. My favorite features are the high-quality images, the 4x optical zoom and the swiveling LCD screen that allows me to see myself while I take self-portraits.

About two weeks ago, I noticed a line a single pixel wide that traveled from near the center of the picture to the bottom edge of the picture in every shot I took that day. The bad line was showing up in the LCD while I composed the pictures as well as in the image file itself. "Uh oh," I thought, "my sensor is going bad!"

Well, I dropped my G3 off at my local camera store, George's Camera, a few days ago to send it to Canon for a repair estimate. I won't know if they'll be able to fix it or how much it will cost me to fix it for another two weeks. Since Comic-Con is next week and since Kara has expressed interest in owning a compact camera of her own, I figured now was the time to get her one that I could use during Comic-Con and then turn over to her when I get my G3 back.

After a few days or research, I decided to go with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 and I bought it at my local Costco last night. I could probably have gotten a better deal online, but I wanted time to play with it this weekend before Comic-Con starts on Wednesday. I chose this camera for the following reasons:
  • It's small enough to fit in my pocket or Kara's purse.
  • It has an awesome 10x optical zoom, much better than my G3.
  • While I would normally stick with Canon or Nikon, the Panasonic Lumix cameras are actually Leica cameras with Leica lenses. I've never owned an SLR, digital or otherwise, but I recognize the Leica brand as having quality lenses.
  • Digital Photography Review gave it a "Recommended" review. I relied on their review when I got my G3 and I trust their reviews now.
  • It has an image stabilizer
  • It has 20 different fully automatic scene modes, including a mode for fireworks
I told Kara that I'll know after Comic-Con if I'll be keeping this camera for myself.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The best "free" software that I use

My friend James asks, What is the best 'free' software you have stumbled upon?.

I seldom stumble upon free software, I usually go looking for it. My home computer runs Windows XP Home Edition, so I'm always looking for free software that improves upon it. I will say that the most important piece of free software on my PC is what I'm using right now: Mozilla Firefox. If you're still using Internet Explorer, I pity you.

I'll skip the usual free software that everyone has (Windows Media Player, iTunes, Adobe Reader, etc.) and talk about the free software that you might now know about:

  • Google Desktop: I've turned off
    the sidebar and all its distracting gadgets and pop ups and use this
    strictly to search my computer. Since I have emails going back to 1998,
    this has been a lifesaver.
  • Notepad++ and Vim: Windows ships with Notepad, which is probably the most pathetic and useless text editor. If you edit text files regularly, like I do, you absolutely need a replacement text editor. I use Notepad++ for most of my text file viewing and editing needs and it's all I need much of the time. However, if I need to do some complex search and replace using regular expressions, vim makes it easy. Easy for me, that is -- if you've never used vim or vi and you're not up for a challenge, I can't recommend it to you.
  • PDFCreator: If you're on a Mac, you don't need this. Macs can create PDF files without any additional software. If you have Adobe Acrobat, you probably don't need this either. But if you don't have either and you don't want to spent hundreds of dollars to create PDF files, PDFCreator allows you to create them from nearly any Windows application. Plus, it's open source and ad/nag-free, unlike PDF995, which is what I used to use.
  • WinMerge: This handy tool is a file comparison utility that can compare two files or two directories.
  • FileZilla: This is a free open source ftp client that I use whenever I need to connect to an ftp server.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Just doing my part for the economy

A window retrofit, a new air conditioner, a new 1080P DLP TV and new furniture...

I work from home and although San Diego doesn't get as hot as other parts of the country, it gets hot enough during the summer months to wish I had air conditioning. Last summer, I bought a portable air conditioner for my office, but either something was wrong with it or it just wasn't powerful enough and I quickly returned it to Costco.

We don't have vents, so putting in central air conditioning would be far too expensive. A window air conditioner would work for most of the houses in our neighborhood, but our windows were replaced before we moved in with brand-new vinyl windows that slide left-to-right, rather than up and down. Since most of the windows in the house are too narrow to fit a window air conditioner in the half-width that I could slide it open and since I don't want to give up one of the big picture windows for a window air conditioner and a huge piece of plastic to cover from the top of the A/C to the top of the window, my only options were to suffer again this summer or to replace one of our windows. I opted to replace one of our narrow side-to-side windows with an up-and-down window.

The new window was installed today and I discovered during the install that I was getting less window than I expected. I had asked for and was expecting a total window replacement and I even asked the company to come out and measure the window for this purpose. What I got was a "retrofit" where they removed the middle of the window and insert a new window with a new frame inside the existing window. In other words, I lose about an inch along all sides. Needless to say, I was not happy and I'm still trying to work out with the window company a solution that will get me a big window without additional cost to me. I don't know how successful I'll be at that.

In anticipation of having a new window installed, I ordered a Haier ESA3105 window air conditioner last Friday and I am waiting for it to be shipped to me. This model was a Consumer Reports "Best Buy" and it's an Energy Star model with 10000 BTU, which should be more than enough for my living room and office.

Not content at spending hundreds of dollars for a new window and a new air conditioner, I also bought something today that is much cooler. The only TV I've had since 1995 is a 25" Zenith with standard-definition picture-tube technology and, while its served me well for 12 years and still works perfectly fine, it's no match for any of the HDTVs on the market. Kara told me a year and a half ago that I could buy a new TV, but I could never make up my mind on what I wanted. Well, I finally decided and this morning I ordered online a Samsung HL-T5689s for the lowest price I could find. Most sites list it at $2,799 or $2,599, but I found it through the Samsung web site at The High Definition Store for $2,199 and with free shipping. I used some of that $600 savings to buy the extended 5-year warranty, but I would have bought the warranty anyway and, even with the warranty, it was still the lowest price I could find.

My new television is the new model for 2007. It's a 1080P 56" LED DLP with 3 HDMI 1.3 inputs. It has an amazing contrast ratio of 10000:1 and with the new LED technology, I won't have to ever replace a bulb. It's got too many cool features to list here -- probably more than I'll ever use. I can hardly wait (although I'll have to wait at least 5 days) for it to arrive.

I didn't order the Samsung TV stand but instead ordered a nicer-looking Bush stand (Model #VS13988-03) with enough room for my audio and video components. Unfortunately, that'll arrive about a week after my TV, so I'll probably have to prop the tv on top of the coffee table for a week.

Once my tv arrives, my next purchase priority is to get an upconverting DVD player with HDMI output to replace my ancient non-progressive scan DVD player. I haven't figured out which one to get yet, but I figure I can get something for under $100 that will cover my DVD viewing needs until a victor is declared in ththe Blu-Ray and HD-DVD war or until a good hybrid unit is available at a reasonable price (might be by the end of the year). If anyone has a good recommendation, please feel free to comment on this post.

Also after my tv arrives, I'll need to upgrade my DirecTv to HD with the HR20 HD-DVR to replace my R15 standard-definition DVR.

Anyone want to buy a used Zenith?