Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff

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Jul
28

Gadget Review: Canon G9

Canon-G9 In the world of photography, I am a Canon guy.  It’s not only that I like Canon photographic products, but I have a big investment in Canon lenses which makes it difficult (read: expensive) to change to cameras from other manufacturers.  My current photographic weapon of choice is Canon’s 5D D-SLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera (reviewed on this blog here).  Additionally, like any self-respecting photographic junkie, I have a wide range of lenses and other stuff from Canon that acts as a crutch, bolstering my otherwise mediocre photographic skills.  All in, my camera and associated equipment weighs about 20 pounds and, in its most portable configuration, fills a reasonable size backpack.

Most often, this isn’t a problem and the chance to get a truly great shot outweighs (pun intended) the inconvenience of carrying the heavy load.  Sometimes, though, an alternative is needed.  Like when on an active vacation or in confined spaces that aren’t ideal for long lenses and really bright flashes.  This is where one of the huge number of compact cameras available comes in.

For the most part, compact cameras are virtually all fully automatic – point-and-shoot, as it were.  The user need but to turn the camera on, aim at a desired target and push a button to steal their soul.  They are the modern equivalent of the original Kodak Brownie, everyone can use one.

Recently, I decided to replace an old compact that I had used for many years with something equally as portable, but with more power and manual control.  My requirements were:

  • Reasonable Sensor Resolution – 8MP should suffice (more on this later)
  • As Large a Physical Sensor as Possible – Low pixel density and larger pixels = clearer pictures and less noise.
  • Optical IS (Image Stabilizer) – Image stabilization helps to capture clear pictures where a shaky hand or low light might have otherwise prevented them.
  • Optical Viewfinder – I cut my teeth on SLRs, I like to see the image through glass instead of via an electronic screen – old habit.
  • Aperture/Shutter Priority + Full Auto – I wanted the camera to have a fully automatic mode, but I also want to be able to shoot pictures by fixing either the shutter speed or the aperture myself.
  • Easily Settable ISO Speed – In digital camera terms, the ISO speed setting adjusts the sensitivity of the sensor in the camera – the more sensitive, the better the pictures at low light, with trade-offs, of course.  Most point-n-shoot cameras automatically set it, I want to be able to do it manually.
  • Built-in Flash – Used for fill flash mostly – to light the objects close to the lens so they are not in shadow.
  • Good Battery Life – Nuclear power would be nice.  I just have to find the plutonium section at my neighborhood camera store.
  • Completely Retractable Lens – The lens has to curl up inside the camera.  It makes the camera smaller to carry and protects the lens.
  • Small as Possible Package – I’d like to carry it in my pocket.
  • Reasonable Wide Angle and Long Zoom – I want to get lots of stuff in my photo when I’m close up and be able to get good shots from far away.  My goal is below 30mm wide and over 200mm tele.
  • RAW File Support – I’ll shoot in JPEG almost always, but when I find that really special shot, I want to be able to capture everything with no in-camera processing.
  • Good Macro Mode – I like taking pictures of flowers and creepy, crawley bugs up close.  Having a macro mode that lets me focus within a few inches of the lens would be great.

Whew!  I also wanted a slew of other features like exposure bracketing, fast startup time, adjustable metering mode, etc, but they were less important to me.  Yeah, I wanted a lot, but I figured it was all doable.  I was wrong.

Because of what is a small market for this set of features combined with the fact that they amount to an enormous boatload of technology, there aren’t many cameras that meet these criteria.  In fact, there are none.  The ones that came close (at the time of my (purchase several months ago) were:

  • Panasonic LX2
  • Leica DLux3
  • Ricoh GX100
  • Nikon P5100
  • Canon A650
  • Sony DSC-H10
  • Canon G9

Even though I am a self-proclaimed Canon guy, I had no bias towards any manufacturer.  Especially since none of my existing equipment was going to work with any compact camera anyway.  In the end, though, I thought that Canon’s G9 came closest to my requirements.  Hardly fitting in my pocket, it does fit on my belt (in a geeky, pocket protector sorta way).  I’ve now used the camera for a couple of months  and I’m convinced that a good photographer could make this camera jump through hoops.  It’s very powerful and takes some really good pictures.  That said, it’s not without some issues.

  • For as large a sensor that this camera has (see stats below), there is a surprising amount of noise above ISO 400.  I have to believe that it’s related to the resolution of the sensor.  I guess resolution is what sells, because if this same sensor was made with 8MP instead of 12.1MP, I’d bet it’d be great up to at least ISO 800.
  • The small flash on the camera is often too hot or not powerful enough.  There should be built-in metering for the flash intensity, but it doesn’t always do a very good job.
  • The lens’ widest view is 32mm (35mm equivalent).  This isn’t bad, of course, but 25-28mm would be a lot nicer.
  • At telephoto, the lens is a bit slow (F4.8).  Combined with the ISO noise problem, above, it’s almost useless in low light.
  • The viewfinder is useless, but there is so much information on the 3″ display, which performs well in sunlight, that it’s less of a problem than I had anticipated.

Other than these issues, and a few nits here and there, this camera met all my prescribed needs.

I just carried this camera on my belt on a trip to Europe that had me walking through cities, museums and cathedrals from dawn till dusk.  Carrying an SLR with a few lenses and a flash would have been a tremendous pain in the ass.  The G9 performed stellarly in daylight and well in low light conditions giving me almost all the results I expected in almost 1,000 photos.

While there are certainly some trade-offs in using this camera, it is very good overall and the only camera that comes close to being a truly portable D-SLR alternative in my opinion.

Here are the key specs . . .

Sensor Size 1/1.7″ CCD
Resolution 12.1M Effective Pixels
Lens – Zoom 32-210mm (35mm Equiv) 6X
Lens – Speed F2.8-F4.8
ISO 80-1600
Display 3.0″ TFT (100% Coverage) + Viewfinder
Size 106.4 X 71.9 X 42.5mm (4.2 X 2.8 X 1.7in)
Weight (w/o battery) 320g (11.3oz)
Macro 1-50cm

 July 28th, 2008  
 Will  
 Gadgets, Photography  
   
 13 Comments
Jul
24

Making the Pan-Mass Challenge More Challenging

PMC-Logo This will be my fifth year riding the Pan-Mass Challenge, a charity ride benefiting the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute through its Jimmy Fund.  It’s a great ride that raises gobs of money for a fabulous charity and a truly worthy cause.

The ride is a two-day event that takes cyclists across most of Massachusetts.  While there aren’t many huge climbs on the ride – it is Massachusetts after all – the challenge is in riding back-to-back very long days.  For most, it’s about just finishing, but for some, with more testosterone than brains – like me – it’s about finishing fast.  Which, of course, makes it a bit more challenging.

My training hasn’t been going great.  Having been in Europe for a couple of weeks didn’t help.  It’s also been raining almost every day for the last week.  Serious bummer.  So, I’ve pushed myself harder than normal to get ready.  So hard, in fact, that I fell off my bike the other day and cracked a couple of ribs.  Ouch!

I was told (or, I wanted to hear) that I can still ride by people with medical degrees – “yeah, it’ll hurt and it will take longer to heal, but you can still ride.”  At least that’s what I heard.  So, I’m going for it.  It was getting too easy anyway . . . yeah, right.

If you’ve read this far and are asking yourself, “how can I contribute to this noble effort,” or, “I’ve been looking for a cool way to donate to cancer research and care,” here’s your chance (any amount helps – there is no donation too small).  Direct your browser to this web page (https://www.pmc.org/egifts/ – for those who like to cut and paste).  Click on “Sponsor a Rider with one donation” then “Select a person by eGift ID”.  My PMC Gift ID is: wh0028 if you choose to “sponsor” me.  Of course, you can make the donation anonymously or directly to Dana Farber, bypassing the sponsorship part, if you prefer.

Wish me luck . . .

 July 24th, 2008  
 Will  
 Cycling  
   
 2 Comments
Jul
24

Golden Shellback Miracle Coating

Fortunately, I’ve never dropped my cell phone in a puddle or poured coffee on my laptop, but I know loads of people who have.  Typically, they spend a few days with a blow dryer trying to bring their electronic gadget back to life.  Sometimes it works, but most often I hear that it “sorta” works.

Well, the Northeast Maritime Institute claims to have solved this problem with its Golden Shellback splash proof coating.  From their web site:

Golden Shellback coating produces a vacuum deposited film that is nonflammable, has low toxicity and has the ability to weatherproof electronic devices and other surfaces. It contains no volatile organic combustibles (VOCs). The clear, nearly non-detectable, uniform film is insoluble in solvents. When applied to clean, moisture free surfaces, such as plastic, copper, aluminum, metal, ceramic, steel, tin or glass, the coating is transparent with excellent weather proofing and anti-corrosion properties.”

Check out the video.  It looks incredible, but it raises as many questions for me as it answers.  Very cool stuff if it works though.


Golden Shellback Waterproof Coating from gCaptain.com on Vimeo.

 July 24th, 2008  
 Will  
 Gadgets, Misc Thoughts  
   
 Comments Off on Golden Shellback Miracle Coating
Jul
23

When Amateurs Show Up the Pros

[Update: Mr. Gullible once again ignored the old adage – when it’s too good to be true, it probably is.  Thanks to Ron and John who pointed out that this was, in fact, an ad for Gatorade that was never televised.  It’s still very cool.  I wonder why it never got airtime outside of the YouTube universe.]

 

I’m a big work ethic type guy.  Effort and hard work wins almost always.  Check out how this professional ball player gets totally shown up by someone who actually wants to make the Play.  Totally wild!

YouTube Video

 July 23rd, 2008  
 Will  
 Management, Sports  
   
 4 Comments
Jul
23

Is Diesel the Solution?

Many people, including me, have espoused the idea that wider use of diesel-fueled vehicles could put a major dent in fuel consumption in the US.  One can look at virtually all other countries in the world and recognize that this is patently obvious.  It’s easy to find diesel vehicles in the EU, for example, that cover almost 50 miles on a single gallon of the stuff.  Try that with a gasoline-electric hybrid.  So why aren’t we all driving cars with diesel engines?

With federally mandated low-sulfer diesel now available everywhere in the US and urea injection technology widely implemented by auto makers, clean diesel fuel is available to meet all our pumping desires.  Add that to the fact that even at the price premium that diesel currently gets over gasoline, diesel is the way to go – using current fuel costs and average fuel economy for gasoline-fueled vehicles and diesel-fueled ones, diesel cars still cost 23% less per mile to operate (see the EIA Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Update for some great information on fuel prices).  Complete and utter no-brainer, right?  Bring on the diesels, our new best friends.

Disappointingly, it turns out that it’s not that easy.  Csaba Csere, editor-in-chief of Car and Driver magazine wrote a terrific editorial that discusses the diesel fuel dilemma in the US.  In the article, Csere states:

Al Mannato, a fuel-issues manager at API [American Petroleum Institute], explains that oil refineries tend to fall into two categories: catalytic cracking and hydrocracking. Most U.S. refineries are set up for catalytic cracking, which turns each barrel of crude oil into about 50-percent gasoline, 15-percent diesel, and the remainder into jet fuel, home heating oil, heavy fuel oil, liquefied petroleum gas, asphalt, and various other products. In Europe and most of the rest of the world, refineries use a hydrocracking process, which produces more like 25-percent gasoline and 25-percent diesel from that barrel of oil. So the rest of the world is already maximizing diesel production. In fact, despite using a refining strategy that minimizes the production of gasoline, Europe still ends up with too much of the stuff, so it exports it to America—about one of every eight gallons of gasoline that we consume.”

Crap.  So, we have this monstrous, difficult to change refining infrastructure that virtually guarantees that the supply of diesel fuel is constrained.  Csere continues . . .

Meanwhile, Americans are already using most of the diesel fuel that our refineries produce, so if sales of diesel cars take off, keeping the diesel flowing here will put further demands on tight worldwide diesel supplies and probably cause the price to rise even more. Our oil industry could, of course, start converting its refineries from catalytic to hydrocracking and start producing more diesel and less gasoline.

Doing so—and here’s the Catch-22—would reduce the output of gasoline and likely increase its price. Moreover, such a switch, Mannato explains, amounts to a major refinery change that would take 5 to 10 years to accomplish. . .

Hmmm . . . limited supply and increasing demand.  Even my basic grasp of economics leads me to see that this is a problem.  I guess that diesel-powered cars are not the panacea that I thought they were or, at least, it’s a more complicated situation than I had considered.

Is there a way to change the oil refining situation in the country faster?  Perhaps there is a solution in there.  The EU countries strategically hiked gas taxes many years ago to drive car buyers to diesel vehicles and aligned demand with production.  Having not adopted such a strategy in the US (or any strategy, as far as I can tell), we find ourselves digging out of what could be (will likely be?) an energy nightmare.  It’s definitely time for some good ol’ reactive American ingenuity.

My friend Lorne proposes micro-refineries that could adapt quickly and meet regional needs.  Is this the way to go?  That is, until we find a way to bag fossil fuels altogether.

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 July 23rd, 2008  
 Will  
 Stuff with a Motor  
   
 4 Comments
Jul
21

Gadget Review: Amazon Kindle

In the last few months, 2-Speed Labs has been inundated with a virtual tractor-trailer load of new gadgets.  I hope to review many of these over the coming weeks for your dissecting pleasure.  Having just completed my second book on Amazon’s new Kindle, though, and with thoughts about the device fresh on my mind, I thought I’d start with this uber cool gadget.

For those of you who haven’t heard of the Kindle, it’s Amazon’s take on an e-book reader.  It has many of the same features of other e-book readers – storage for many books; nice electronic ink (E-Ink) display; searchable content; etc.  It has phenomenal battery life, even better (much) with the radio off.  I read a book plus a variety of downloaded articles on a single charge – and I read at the speed of a kindergartner. 

What’s really cool about the device is that it adds what Amazon calls Whispernet.  Basically, it’s a one-way cell phone (EV-DO radio service using Sprint) built into the Kindle to download books, periodicals and some other web stuff.  While you can’t place calls on the Kindle, the data browsing and download capability is very cool.  There is no periodic charge for use, either.  Projected use is loaded into the up-front cost of the reader.

Of course, this always on (well, optionally on) data connection makes it super easy to browse Amazon’s library of books in Kindle form (there are a surprising number of books already available – well over 100,000) and to download them instantly.  Since the most expensive book is $9.99, this probably won’t break you.  Although the hefty $359 (recently reduced from $399) outlay for the device might.

One can also subscribe to a few magazines and newspapers (for a fee, of course) and have the journals automatically sent to their kindle as soon as they are available.  Newspapers are delivered early in the morning so even early birds don’t have to wait on the front step with slippers, robe and coffee for the newspaper delivery person to show up.  From what I can tell, the New York Times works well in its current Kindle format, others have a bit of catching up to do.

When you register your Kindle, you get two email addresses.  As you send certain documents to these addresses, Amazon will convert the documents into a format that the Kindle understands and either email the resulting document to your computer or pass it to your Kindle over Whispernet.  There is no charge for the document to be emailed to you (you can transfer it to the Kindle yourself once you get it), but Amazon charges $0.10 for each document sent directly to your Kindle.

There are several blogs that also can be subscribed to, if you don’t mind paying to read blog posts.  There are also a few “experimental” features that include a web browser and an MP3 player.

The problem with the web browser and blog reader is that the Kindle is set up to work with pages – like those in a book.  It doesn’t handle HTML frames, or large web-oriented page information nicely.  Even though there is a scroll wheel of sorts, it doesn’t move a cursor or viewing area up and down like you think of in a mouse and browser paradigm on a computer.  Instead, the previous and next buttons are used (as in previous and next page).  It’s difficult to explain, but it’s just not what you’re used to doing in the context of a normal web browser or blog reader.

None of that should detract from the experience of reading books on the device, though.  The bottom line is that I really like reading with the Kindle.  I like carrying multiple books in limited space (and weight); I like the ease of acquiring new books; and I like the idea of saving a tree here and there.

I think there can be a few improvements made, though . . .

  1. I still think in paper pages and there is no indication of what page I’m on.  That is, a page number corresponding to the page in the actual, printed book.  Since the text size can be changed you don’t necessarily see a page as it was originally set in the bound book.  There is a visual guide (dots) to give you a sense of how far into the book you are and a “location,” that is an index of where you are (although the index is not with respect to the number of locations in the entire book).  Neither of these indicators correspond to the actual book, though.  I’d like the Kindle to tell me what page I’m on from the book.  Since the text size I like is fairly large, I might be on the same book page for several kindle pages.  Until I am a complete convert, this type of indicator would be nice.
  2. While paying for blogs seems absurd, I understand that there is variable airtime involved using Whispernet.  I’d pay for a few, select blogs that I read if the price were reasonable (read: minimal) and they were available.  The selection right now is very limited.
  3. Well, I should note that 2, above, would be true if the blog browsing/reading experience were better.  Let me use the scroll wheel to navigate up and down the page and the experience will be more natural.
  4. The same thing is true for web browsing but, additionally, links have to be easier to “click on” and CSS styles/HTML frames need to be rendered better.  Again, I understand that Amazon doesn’t want to encourage more airtime use, but offering a broken browser doesn’t seem to the the way to control it.
  5. Some .doc and .pdf files aren’t very readable when translated by Amazon and sent to the Kindle.  A few of mine even got to the Kindle in hexadecimal format.  Since the Kindle is a great device for reading business stuff on the run, it would be great if this was working better soon.

Again, for it’s main purpose, though, I love this thing.  If you’re even a casual reader, the Kindle is a great addition to your library.  If you’re a traveler, you’ll quickly become an addict.  Highly recommended.

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 July 21st, 2008  
 Will  
 Gadgets  
   
 7 Comments
Jul
20

Day 15 of the Tour de France

Who knew, right?  One of the biggest sporting events in the world and, potentially, the most grueling, and I can’t even watch it on TV.  My local cable provider has opted out.  Such a shame, it really is a terrific event, even if you’re not a cyclist.

Of course, the economics of carrying the event probably make no sense.  It’s long – 21 stages over 23 days, each day taking many hours – and there probably aren’t enough sponsors in the US to even fill all the available slots, let alone make money at it.  Finally, if you’re in the US, there are only 4 American riders in the race – 3 of them with one team, the new Garmin-Chipotle team.  Even though Americans have won 10 of the last 22 races (not Including Floyd Landis’ doping-enhanced “victory”), four contenders from the country is hardly enough to build any fan base of cycling outsiders or noobs.

In any event, Americans do have something to be excited about.  Christian Vande Velde of the Garmin-Chipotle team (an American on an US-based team) is currently in 5th place, only 39 seconds behind the leader.  Only 49 seconds separate the leader (wearing the Yellow Jersey) from the 6th place rider.  Danny Pate, also of the Garmin-Chipotle team and another American came in third today, 10 seconds behind today’s stage winner.

Overall, a pretty good showing for the new American team and two American riders so far.

 July 20th, 2008  
 Will  
 Cycling, Sports  
   
 2 Comments
Jul
14

Software Management Guides from an Expert

Long time friend and cohort, Lorne Cooper, has two new posts up on the AccuRev blog that are must reads if you’re in the software development business.  Aside from his role as CEO of AccuRev (I am a board member and investor), which develops and sells software for software developers, Lorne has a long history of running software companies and projects.  In these posts, he shares some of the wisdom he has gained over the years.

Check ’em out.

 July 14th, 2008  
 Will  
 Leadership, Management, Software  
   
 Comments Off on Software Management Guides from an Expert
Jul
14

If it’s Tuesday it Must be Venice

My family and I just returned from a two week, if it’s Tuesday it must be Venice, death march through Europe.  We packed as much stuff as possible into a two week “vacation.”  My wife and I thought this might be the best time to introduce our teenage kids to people who don’t think that the world rotates around North America and, perhaps, to teach them that important things happened before 1620.

The trip was great, although my kids are now convinced that there are as many churches and museums in Europe as there are people.  It was fun to see there reaction to all things – big and small.  From my son’s disappointment with the postage stamp size of the real Mona Lisa to my daughter’s jaw dropping at the massive size of St. Peter’s.

My kids also think that I’m the most unreasonable father on the face of the planet since I made them leave all their communication gear, including cell phones and computers, at home.  Somebody call Child Protective Services, I clearly should be in shackles.

After two weeks, we’re all a little tired of the travel and the memories of the sites and experiences are all sorta blurring together – which Roman emperor had those baths constructed?  Was it King Henry XIII or Napoleon Bonaparte?

It was easy to keep in touch with the US, though.  My daily (sometimes even more frequent) visits to ATMs always helped me remember home.  I first took money out with a shovel.  By the end, I was withdrawing it with a dump truck.  It’s not just that the exchange rates are out of control, stuff throughout Europe is just plain expensive, especially in the big cities.

I’m no travel neophyte, I’ve been to Europe on business and vacation dozens of times and never felt this raped before.  I spent half the GNP of many countries south of the equator on this trip and I’ve worn out the magnetic strip on my American Express card.

Even though I’m going to have to sell a car or kidney to pay for the trip, I think we all got a lot out of it.  Loads of great sites and experiences.  One, in particular, will stick with us for a long time.  While visiting the Vatican, our tour guide was able to grease the appropriate palms to get us behind the scenes of the Sistine Chapel. 

Just the four of us plus our guide and a Papal underling (the recipient of the aforementioned bribe).  We first went into the Sacristy, connected to the Chapel and which I sacrilegiously refer to as the Papal locker room (really, that’s what it looks like with it’s 500 year old vertical wood lockers where stuff is stored).  All the Pope’s robes and bling are there.  Shockingly, we were allowed to handle a lot of current and past Pope’s accouterments.  At one point, the underling removed a huge gold cross from a cabinet and hung it around my daughter’s neck proclaiming, in Italian of course, that it was the cross that Pope John Paul II wore when giving mass.  The Queen of England has all her stuff behind 12″ of Plexiglas, surrounded by guards with Uzis.  I guess the Pope has God watching to make sure a 15 year old girl doesn’t break for the exits with his priceless jewels.

We spent about an hour touring others rooms connected to the chapel including what appeared to be the private Pope museum with robes, chalices and tiaras (those pointy hats the Pope wears) plus other memorabilia from the last, geez, I dunno, 15 centuries or so.  Totally mind blowing.

On the flight home, I asked my kids what they remembered most from the trip.  Even after the experience we had at the Vatican, they both agreed that it was, ” the amount of walking you made us do.”  I can only hope that their memories of our journey grow better with time and that helps them understand why I wiped out their college funds to pay for the trip.

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 July 14th, 2008  
 Will  
 Misc Thoughts  
   
 4 Comments
Jul
11

Crash Differently

Saw this comment on several blogs today.  Perfect!  If you tried to get a new iPhone up and running or, even worse, tried to get an old iPhone or iPod Touch upgraded to the new iPhone 2.0 software, you understand this completely.  For all the bashing Apple does of Microsoft for screwing up releases you’d think they’d work a little harder to avoid the debacle that today has been for so many iPhone/iPod users.

My son bought a new iPhone today which still can’t get a signal – it appears that the activation failed.  When I tried to upgrade my iPod Touch to iPhone 2.0 software, iTunes continually crashed.  I Googled the error message and found about 250 pages of entries discussing the same problem.  Eventually, iTunes just stopped trying to direct me to the iTunes store to upgrade and told me that my v1.1.4 software “is the current version.”  No 2.0 for me, I guess, even though the announcement of its release is still proudly displayed on Apple’s web site.  To even get that far, I had to do a complete reinstall of iTunes.

Apple apparently is claiming that their servers are overloaded.  Let’s see.  I know how many iPod Touches exist; I know how many original iPhones were sold; and I know how many new iPhones are in the channel.  How would I anticipate demand.   Hmmm, let me think . . .

They’ll work it all out, of course, and all the Jim Jones disciples who routinely drink all the Kool-Ade Apple can produce will quickly forget what a mess today has been.  As Apple gets more customers and gets hit with more upgrades of huge numbers of users, perhaps they’ll  demonstrate a bit less hubris with respect to how their giant competitors create and deal with problems.  What a joke.  Like that would ever happen .  .  .

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 July 11th, 2008  
 Will  
 Gadgets  
   
 2 Comments