Shareware Beach

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Polarizing Pictures

Filed under: Photography — Jan @ 11:57

A key benefit of an SLR camera over a compact is that you can put some nice lenses on the SLR. On top of that, such lenses are threaded, making it easy to put on filters. Though many filter effects, particularly color filters, can be easily replicated (or even done much better) by post-processing RAW files, that is not at all true of polarizing filters. Digital camera sensors don’t record the light’s polarization. Most light we see isn’t polarized anyway.

Sunlight does become polarized as it travels through the atmosphere, and tends to stay polarized as is reflected. A polarization filter filters out light that’s polarized at a particular (adjustable) angle. They can make the sky appear a deeper blue, reduce haze and reduce or even eliminate reflections on water, foilage and even people. The filter will have the most effect when you turn your shoulder to the sun.

Below you’ll find two pairs of photographs. Each pair was taken with the exact same (automatic) camera settings. The only difference is that for the first picture, I turned the polarization filter for minimum effect, which gives about the same result as not using the filter at all. In the second picture, I turned it for maximum effect. As you can see, filtering out the reflected highlights yields a more saturated picture. There’s more detail in the shadows because there are less highlights to be kept from overexposure. Which style you prefer is of course a matter of taste. But I do know I’ll never leave home without the polarization filter in my camera bag.

Portrait lit by sunlight

Portrait lit by sunlight, reflections filtered with a polarizer

Forest river glistening in the sun

Forest river, reflections filtered with a polarizer

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Don’t Throw Away Your Money

Filed under: Life & The Universe — Jan @ 17:31

Now who would throw their money away? I see it happen all the time. People buying stuff they don’t need to impress people who don’t care about them. Working a job they don’t like to be able to afford all that stuff.

Ken Rockwell recently wrote an interesting article How to Afford Anything. Or more accurately: how to afford a camera bag with $10,000 worth of equipment. Camera equipment and photography are Ken’s usual topic.

Don’t be offended by the hyperbole in the article. That’s just Ken’s usual goofy and irreverent style. Love it or hate it; the message is very true. If you stop keeping up with the Jones, you’ll save so much money you’ll have plenty to afford the stuff you really need or like. It certainly works for me.

Yes, having a successful software business certainly helps. But the point is you can’t ditch your dead-end day job when you’re over your ears into debt. I saved a lot of money by living with my parents until I got married, buying a cheap car (which I needed for contracting jobs when dropping out of university), having no nose for fashion, and spending as much on toys as needed to have fun–never to show off. In fact, other than having a house of our own, we still live that way. Food is about the only thing I never try to save money on. Mind you I said “food”, not “fancy restaurants”.

By saving money and spending it wisely, I somehow always have enough to spend on what I really care about. Like a $500 keyboard.

Who’s Who in Regular Expressions

Filed under: Personal,Software Development — Jan @ 11:02

Regular expression enthusiast and RegexBuddy user forum resident Steven Levithan puts me in good company in his post Regex Legends: The People Behind the Magic.

Monday, 7 January 2008

DataHand Update

Filed under: Ergonomics,Hardware & Gadgets — Jan @ 17:55

Last August, I reviewed the DataHand alternative keyboard on my blog. My conclusion was that the DataHand is an excellent product that is let down by a very limited warranty. When paying $500 for a keyboard, I expect a full one-year warranty, not 90 days parts and labor. Datahand.com still advertises the same price and warranty today. However, my story with the DataHand didn’t end when I wrote the review, even though I had stopped using at that time. I’m writing this update on a brand new DataHand. At least, it was brand new last September.

After writing the review, I let the folks at DataHand Inc. know about it. When writing a review, I feel it’s fair to give the reviewed an opportunity to respond. The DataHand people never did.

A few days later I did plug in once more the unit that worked intermittently. And it worked again. I had observed in the past, and mentioned in my review, that leaving the unit unplugged for a few days would make the problem go away, usually for a couple of weeks or even a month.

Two weeks later, with the one unit still working fine, I found a reply from DataHand in my gmail account. My bad for not checking that account more often. I used it because DataHand didn’t seem to be able receive email from my regular address. I was told that DataHand’s email issues had been fixed. This turned out to be true, making communication much smoother. Calling is a bit difficult with a 14-hour time difference.

I was asked to explain the whole situation once more, which I did. I also said I was not interested in any further repair attempts. I depend on my keyboard, and it has to work 100%. I offered to send back the unit with the two permanently broken keys in return for a brand new DataHand. I would use the unit with the intermittent problem in the mean time, and keep it as a backup. I need only one DataHand, and I can understand that it’s hard for them to fix problems that even the customer can’t reproduce consistently.

After a phone call from DataHand having me run some basic tests on both units, with no results, DataHand agreed to take back the broken unit and ship me a brand new one. So I shipped back one DataHand at my expense. One month later, the new unit arrived. It was shipped at DataHand’s expense, and came with a fresh 90-day limited warranty. It took so long because the DataHand was temporarily out of stock. This was advertised on their website. I had no problems with this, as the unit with the intermittent problem was working fine. It kept working perfectly until the new one arrived.

Four months later, the new unit has continued working flawlessly. Hopefully it will continue to do so. The other two also worked perfectly for about five months. The one that I have left sits on the shelf. I guess I should box it before it collects too much dust.

Update: It’s January 2009 now, and the new unit still works flawlessly. I even used the old unit with the intermittent problem for almost half a year. Details on my new blog.

I still believe the DataHand folks could have saved both me and themselves quite a bit of trouble by offering a full one-year warranty. They obviously do try to help their customers. And I always felt that Lynn and Nancy, the two people I dealt with, are honest and try to do what they can within their company’s policies.

When I inquired once again about the short warranty, I was told that they did offer a one-year warranty in the past, when the cheapest DataHand cost just under $1,000. When they cut the price in half, they also slashed the warranty. I still believe this is a bad business decision in the long term.

Cutting the price in half surely raises sales. But even at $500, it’s still incredibly expensive if you compare it with a regular keyboard, and even most (so-called) ergonomic keyboards. In that light, I don’t believe that raising the price to $550 or $599 will have a dramatic impact on sales. And that would be more than enough to cover the cost of shipping out brand new units under a full one-year warranty. Imagine what I would have written in my review if instead of an expensive repair job, I’d have gotten a brand new replacement in no time. It comes up as result #6 in Google when I type “datahand review” in Google (#3 if I also type in the quotes).

They’re obviously willing to take care of their customers. I wasn’t ignored, and in the end I did get a new unit. So why not make it a promise? Good customer service goes a long way.

I often handle technical support requests from people who are using a trial version. Often, these questions arise more from the person’s unfamiliarity with the software that they could easily solve by looking at the help or even just all the available menu items, rather than an actual problem needing support. But such questions are usually quickly answered. When I do, the response is quite often that they’re surprised I replied at all–and a sale! Caring about customers isn’t a cost. It’s an investment.

Business practices aside, I’m once again happily using my DataHand. I still feel that the product itself is excellent. Or rather: I don’t feel it. That’s the whole point. When I use the Microsoft Natural Keyboard for a few days, my wrists and arms are sore every day. I’m not really in pain, but it dampens my mood and productivity. The DataHand requires no effort at all. Yes, there’s quite a learning curve. But now it happens all automatically.

Definitely worth $500 and the practice. Shame about the short warranty.

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