Thursday, January 9, 2014

Review: Sony RX100 II (it's great, but has some significant faults)


Just to state this up front.....This review is based on my real world shooting experiences with the Sony RX100 II.  I'm not a camera technician nor do I have a testing setup, so I can't write about the camera's detailed technical capabilities even if I wanted to.   There are websites that do that much better than I could, like this link to the RX100 II review on

Instead, I do what I can...which is to write about my impressions of how this camera handles for its intended use, my perception of the picture quality, how easy/hard the features are to use, its general user interface, what I like about it, and what I dislike about it.

The last part of that sentence is key.  There are definitely things that I love about this camera, but there are also some things about it that are quite silly and hopefully they'll be corrected with firmware updates from Sony that will allow the user to turn certain key features (like high ISO noise reduction) on/off and set limits to others.

And therefore...I have a like/dislike relationship with the Sony RX100 II.  I love the compact size, photo quality, and configurability....but I dislike the way some of the features have been implemented and some of the decisions the camera makes while shooting.

To put this camera in perspective and understand where it fits into the camera market and how it came to life, you might be interested in this link to a great interview on the with the Sony executives responsible for their latest spree of outstanding and ground breaking cameras....of which the RX100 II is one.  The interview offers many interesting insights.

The main point of the article is that Sony is hell-bent on designing and producing cameras that fill the niches in the camera market that photographers want filled that other manufactures are not satisfying.  Paraphrased another way, the two camera kingpins (Nikon and Canon) have largely been producing the same cameras for many years with minor iterations each few years.  There has been (generally speaking) a lack of true innovation from Nikon and Canon.  In my opinion, they haven't kept up with what people want and are just following each other.  Others might feel differently....


I'm a long time Canon shooter.  I own multiple Canon compacts, DSLR's, lenses, accessories, I have a big investment in that brand.  So for me to take the leap and switch to a new camera brand and a whole new pile of accessories, batteries, etc....something had to change with not only my photography needs, but perhaps with Canon as well.

So what changed with Canon?  After many years in the early 2000's of releasing powerful innovative cameras with features that their users really wanted, Canon stagnated.  Since the mid 2000's, they've been putting out minor iterations of basically the same cameras over and over again.  When they did make advancements in things like the movie capabilities on their DSLR cameras, you needed to buy new lenses (with stepping motors) to truly take advantage of it.  Come on....give me a break....please.

My general opinion is that there was a major opportunity in the camera market for another manufacturer other than the big two to swoop in and capitalize on the stagnation.  That company is Sony.  Others like Panasonic and FujiFilm have also stepped in to share the glory...

Sony has released a long string of innovative camera devices in the last few years including (quoted from the above article) "...the RX1, RX1R, RX100 and RX100 II compacts, the smartphone-extending QX series (which are wildly successful, just not so much among the dedicated photo community), the full-frame A7 and A7R mirror less cameras".  So Sony has been hard at work!

That's enough about Canon and what I think their problems are...

So what changed with my photography needs?  First and foremost, I don't want to haul around DSLR cameras and lenses anymore for my general photography needs.  When I got back into photography ten years ago, DSLR's and their lenses offered the primary route to the highest quality photos, which is one of my main goals.  If I'm going to seriously pursue photography as a hobby then I want to take the highest quality photos on the best equipment that I can afford.  That's just the way I am.  The best quality photos, taken with fast and flexible cameras, with fast accurate auto focus, etc.  That's how I ended up firmly in the DSLR world.

But then things changed....After many years of going on every family event, weekend outing and vacation with a backpack full of camera gear, I suddenly just got tired of doing it.  I still wanted the best quality but I didn't want to carry it around anymore.  That led me to purchase the Canon S95, which is a really good compact camera and I used that for years.  I've taken tons of gorgeous high quality photos with it but I still wanted something more.  But the "something more" wasn't available yet.

My main criteria for this latest camera purchase: pocketable compact, excellent photo quality, reasonable zoom range for a compact, highly configurable, fast and accurate auto focus, manual modes when I want them, clean high ISO capabilities, good movie capability, and a few other smaller things...

The answer came recently in the Sony RX100 II.  I bought one.  No other pocketable compact on the market can match it.


OK, you've got my Intro and Background.  Let's get to the review...

One thing that might help put my comments here into context for you is to review the full RX100 II manual.  It will help you to understand what this camera is capable of and the myriad of features it has on board.  You can find the full manual on the Sony website at this link.

The camera has a deep menu system, but fortunately there are enough external buttons and different ways to configure them so that once you get the camera set up the way you want it and configure the three available custom modes, two control rings, and four control buttons on the might not find yourself needing to dive into the menu system very often (which is good!).  I strongly suggest spending some time with this camera and the manual to set it up accordingly for your most typical shooting needs.  Once done, it will get out of your way during shooting...

The camera operates quickly during shooting.  Auto focus is fast to lock, there is no noticeable amount of shutter lag, photos are quick to display and scroll in review mode, zoom is responsive, etc. The camera clearly has some nice processing power behind it.

I want to mention one side note about this camera that's neither good nor bad, it's just a fact....And that fact is that it's a 20 megapixel camera.  Inherent with high megapixel count cameras is the fact that you might notice more motion blur in your photos than you do in cameras with lower megapixel counts.  I explain the reason for this in another blog article that I wrote at this link.

If you read that article, the moral of the story is that under certain shooting situations with high megapixel count cameras (like the Sony RX100 II and many others), you might want to use significantly higher shutter speeds than you normally would to help eliminate motion blur in your photos.  Just something to be aware of...

Since I mentioned above that I like and dislike certain things about this camera, that's how I'm going to organize this review....into two sections with my comments next to each item.  Here we go...

What I like:
  1. Photo quality:  The quality of the JPEG output from the RX100 II is fantastic.  Outdoors in bright light or indoors in dim light, the camera (when it's set up right) churns out great looking photos.  I have not experimented with its Raw output yet, but judging from the quality of the JPEG's I would assume the Raw quality is also quite high.
  2. Lens quality:  From what I see in my photos, the lens is very high quality....which I would expect from Zeiss.  It's sharp and distortion at the edges and corners seems reasonable for a camera in this class.
  3. LCD quality:  It's bright and super sharp.  No more to say here...
  4. Auto focus:  It's fast and accurate, and the tracking function works quite well when needed.
  5. Low light photo quality:  When set up and used properly, the camera produces excellent low light results with the standard shooting modes.  It also has some unique solutions (like Multi Shot Noise Reduction) that can push that quality level even higher if the shooting situation is appropriate for their use.
  6. Configurability:  The camera is highly configurable by the user.  Both control rings and the Function button can all be configured with different commands so they do what you want them to do.  There are also three user programmable Custom modes for your unique shooting needs.  It's great to see this level of configurability in a compact camera.
  7. Small size:  This is a pocketable camera, which makes what it can do even more astounding.
  8. Build quality:  It's built tough.  The metal body feels significant in your hands.  The controls and dials all feel well designed and built.  The tilt screen is well implemented.
  9. Tilting flash:  This is an incredibly useful feature.  Direct flash on your subject is the harshest kind of flash lighting that you can use and it's the main flash lighting source for all compact cameras.  It creates shadows, it looks harsh, etc.  On the RX100 II, you can tilt the pop-up flash back slightly with your finger so that it can bounce off a nearby ceiling or wall and provide nice bounce light on your subject.  It's certainly not going to have the distance or power of a dedicated external flash unit, but in a pinch it can really help with producing better flash photos. Excellent innovative feature.  (are you listening Canon and Nikon...this is the kind of thing you're missing the boat on)
  10. DRO/Auto HDR:  This is Sony's Dynamic Range Optimization and Auto HDR function, and they both work well....expanding the dynamic range of an image through various techniques when you would otherwise not be able to capture it with one photo.  DRO processes a single photo to achieve its results (applying what I guess is something similar to Photoshop's Shadows/Highlights function in-camera) and Auto HDR processes multiple images taken at different exposures to achieve its results.  You would use one or the other depending on the specific shooting situation (i.e., you would not to use Auto HDR in a motion situation since it's taking multiple photos to achieve its results and any motion will ruin the photo).
  11. Clear Image Zoom:  I can't really explain this one completely, but it works.  The RX100 II comes with two types of digital zoom technology in addition to its optical zoom.  One is a standard digital zoom that all compact cameras have and which I never use because it ruins the photo quality.  Then the RX100 II also has this Clear Image Zoom capability that crops into the photo you're taking and somehow enlarges it with very little noticeable (if any) quality loss.  It's amazing, actually.  Works nicely when the optical zoom just doesn't have the reach that you need...
  12. Manual Focus Peaking:  When you're in a situation that warrants manual focusing, this is a handy feature that highlights the part of the image that's in focus on the LCD screen in a color of your choice (for those of us with so-so eyesight).  :)
  13. Wifi and Smartphone integration:  This is not a game changer feature and many cameras have it nowadays, but it's nice to be able to shoot a photo and then send the image off to my smartphone to upload it (this works nicely), or download photos wirelessly to my computer over wifi (this does not...I've worked with Sony and haven't been able to get this to work on my computer running Apple Mac OSX 10.9.1 and Sony Wireless Auto Import 1.2).  You can also use Sony's app on your smartphone for remote control of the camera.
  14. Video:  The video capabilities of the RX100 II are right on the mark.  Video is sharp, clear, you can zoom while shooting and maintain auto focus, there are multiple formats, frame rates and sizes.  The audio pickup from the top mounted internal stereo microphones is surprisingly good.  It's all here and works nicely.

What I dislike:
  1. SteadyShot:  The Sony SteadyShot image stabilization system is sadly not very effective.  It's not reliably helpful when shooting stills and it's not effective at all when shooting longer than 1/30 second.  Sony Support confirmed this with me and told me not to expect much from the system when shooting longer than 1/30 second.  It's much less effective than the stabilization technologies in compact cameras from other manufacturers (for example the much older Canon S95, which has excellent image stabilization).  I've noticed that SteadyShot is more effective in Movie mode than it is for stills.  I don't know why...
  2. No Auto-ISO in Manual mode:  Not having Auto-ISO in Manual mode in a camera of this caliber is just pure silliness and should be corrected with a firmware upgrade as soon as possible.  Because of the way that the RX100 II behaves in certain shooting situations (see #3 below), it would be a great solution to those idiosyncrasies for the photographer to be able to put it into Manual mode to set the desired shutter and aperture and let the ISO do what it will.  But Sony offers no Auto-ISO in Manual mode....and therefore from my perspective they've completely crippled the Manual mode for my purposes.
  3. 1/30 and f/1.8 tendencies:  When shooting without flash indoors in the automatic modes, the RX100 II has a tendency to select 1/30 second and f/1.8 as its standard settings instead of boosting the ISO and giving me a more hand-holdable shutter speed and aperture with a little more depth of field.   There aren't a lot of photographers I know who want a camera making this type of shutter/aperture decision, especially when the camera has a weak image stabilization system.  Shooting at 1/30 second leaves no margin for handheld vibration error.  This should be corrected with a firmware upgrade that implements user-configurable min/max settings for all exposure-triangle parameters (shutter, aperture, ISO) so that the camera makes more reasonable and usable shutter/aperture decisions in low light without flash.  I worked around this by using one of the Custom modes to store the parameters that will force the camera to do more of what I want in low light. (i.e., I set up a Custom mode that makes the minimum Auto-ISO 1600 so that the camera is forced to choose higher shutter speeds and something other than f/1.8).
  4. High ISO Noise Reduction:  There is no option to completely turn off High ISO Noise Reduction.  I hate this, especially given that you CAN shut off long exposure noise reduction!  Why give me the ability to turn off one of them but not the other.  I want to decide whether or not I use high ISO noise reduction in certain shooting situations, not Sony.  The reason is because the effects of Sony's heavy handed high ISO noise reduction are clear in the photos.  I would prefer to handle this setting myself...with the option of turning it completely off.  
  5. Front Control Ring:  I like having the feature of a Front Control Ring around the lens, but the number of turns it takes to change settings with it is silly to the point of it being almost useless in some situations.  For example, rotating it to change shutter speed when in Shutter mode takes twist after twist after twist to get from one side of the shutter range to the other.  It needs to be more sensitive and get across the shutter range with one twist of the ring.
  6. No GPS:  There's no on board GPS to tag photos with.  I'm sure this was a space and cost issue so this one I can understand and therefore I wouldn't necessarily classify it in the "Dislike" category.  The camera probably couldn't fit one more circuit into it given its compact size and the price is already quite high for a compact.  So I'll take what I can get and do without GPS...
  7. Splitting of movies and photos in review mode:  Why, why, why?  That's what I have to say about this.  When you press the 'Play' button to enter photo review mode, you have to choose whether you want to review your photos or your videos.  You can't just see all of the photos and videos you've shot in sequence.  I don't know why Sony chose to differentiate between them in playback mode and put them into different folders requiring you to switch back and forth.  It's a bad design that's silly, cumbersome, and should be changed with a firmware update.  
  8. No wifi transfer to Mac computers running latest Mavericks OS:  The current Apple Mac OSX Mavericks operating system has been released for quite a while (10.9.1).  The current version of Sony's Wireless Auto Import software (1.2) seemingly doesn't reliably work with Mavericks.  I've worked with Sony support on this for hours and that's what they finally told me.  I hate when electronics manufacturers do this.  It should be a priority to release cameras, with their related software, that work on the current major operating systems at the time the camera is released.  Don't give me a software update 6 months later....that's useless to me.
  9. No battery wall charger:  For the price of this camera, give me a separate battery wall charger.  Having to charge the battery in the camera is completely ridiculous.

In the past three years Sony has taken the photo industry by storm with innovative, powerful, high quality, useful cameras.  From all directions they're producing unique cameras that fill a void in the camera industry.  Photographers clearly want them because they're selling quite well and generating a lot of positive news for Sony.

If you want a pocketable compact camera with excellent photo quality generated by the largest sensor available in a camera of this class, then the Sony RX100 II is the only game in town.  It should be at the top of your shopping list and it's as good as everyone says.

There's a lot to like about this camera, and many of the items that I don't like that I mentioned above can be fixed with firmware updates, if Sony chooses to do it.  The Sony designers have clearly listened to the needs of photographers in creating this camera, now they need to listen to the reviews and update the firmware in the RX100 II to correct its significant flaws and push it over the edge into the area of hallowed ground for a piece of photography equipment.  Sony, are you listening???

The price is quite high, but when you see the results this camera is capable of generating hopefully those concerns will melt away.  Overall, Sony should be applauded for their very nice work on the RX100 II.  They've got a new customer in me.  Hopefully they keep it up with their next products!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fuck Cancer

It's been a while since I've posted to my blog...but I'm sitting down to write this morning because of the topic of cancer and a new resource that I stumbled across that people should be aware of, and use.  And I stress the word "use".

"90% of cancers are curable if caught in stage one".  I did not know that.  There's also a lot more that I didn't know about cancer on the website called "Fuck Cancer" located at this link of  Excuse their language, but it does get attention, right?  :)

I think it's a pretty safe statement to say that almost everyone knows someone who's been affected by cancer.  The sheer number of varieties of cancer make that somewhat inevitable.  Father, mother, sister, brother, friend....  It doesn't matter who it affects, once it happens it opens up a lot of questions and dialog that many people don't think about in the normal course of life.

The mission of the Fuck Cancer website is to change that.  Go there.  Read about it.  Their goal is to have a blunt and open dialog about cancer to discuss the kinds of things that you won't read about on pure medical websites like WebMD.  It offers the information from many different perspectives:  education, prevention, emotional, patient, caregiver, community.  Great stuff!

One of the things that I've learned within the past ten years or so that really struck me even before I saw this website is that the chances of getting many types of cancer can be significantly reduced by lifestyle changes.

This is entirely within every person's ability to do.  All it takes to get started on this path of prevention is willpower and the desire to live a long and healthy life.  This is not to say that you won't some day get whacked out of left field with a terrible form of cancer anyway, but there are many obvious things that you can do to improve your odds...right exercising more, cutting out smoking, cutting down on drinking, reducing stress, etc.  But there's also much more than that....

How about knocking the constant influx of crappy food out of your life?  Have you ever read the ingredients to something as simple as the croutons that you shake on your salad?  Yikes!  Have you heard all of the news about genetically modified seeds and crops and how horrible they are for you (go to and search for news on "Monsanto" to read about that gem of a topic)?  Have you switched to organic milk so that you're not feeding your family unnecessary antibiotics and growth hormones every day?  Soda?'s nothing else other than chemicals and acids.  How about your laundry detergent....which over the years has been filled with many wacky new "more effective" cleaning chemicals.  Guess what....that stuff stays in your clothes if it's not rinsed out well and then it touches and absorbs into your skin all day when you wear those clothes.  The list goes on and on....

Do you think these things don't affect your health?  If so, you're kidding yourself.  The human body and immune system certainly weren't designed to be pounded all day, every day, with chemicals that you can't even pronounce the names of.  55% of all Americans are allergic to at least one thing.  Does that sound strange to you?  It does to me....and I totally believe that all this crap that gets piled into us over decades has broken down the ability of the body to cope with many simple allergens.

I firmly believe in "everything in moderation" for success in many areas of life in general, but what happens over time is that all of the things above sneak into your life and guess're no longer living a life of moderation, instead you're living a life that has chemicals in it at every turn.  Some people don't care about this, but a lot of people do.  Leading a more sensible life with less garbage in it doesn't turn you into a right-wing chemical hater.  It's just common sense to be aware and take better care of yourself....

But I digress off the main topic a bit....

The Fuck Cancer website is a valuable resource that offers up its information from a variety of angles that anybody can latch on to in order to satisfy their needs.  Even if you don't know someone with cancer, check out the 'Get Educated' section so that you can learn how to monitor yourself and take simple preventative measures to lead a healthier life.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Rising: Looking forward from 9/11

Above is a time-lapse video showing the construction of the Freedom Tower.  It's definitely worth a few minutes to watch how far the building and site have come.  Very cool!

For the 9/11 anniversary, my daughter is doing something in school where they pick a person to interview about 9/11 and ask some questions about what you were doing that day, the emotions you felt, how you feel about it all these years later, etc.  I had my experiences from that day that I originally wrote about in a blog post at this link back in 2010.

She wasn't born yet when 9/11 occurred and something struck me about the fact that she's learning the history of an event that I lived right through....that we all lived right through.  Thinking about 9/11 as a history class topic just strikes me as strange for some reason.  I don't think about it has "history" yet, it's still all so new.

I had to pause when she asked me some of the questions, specifically one where she asked how I felt about it twelve years later.  I didn't really know how to answer that.  Not much has changed.  I'm still shocked, angry, sad, and left wishing that people could find a way to get past differences large and small.  I see and hear people every day getting stuck on things that are so trivial in the bigger scope of life that it really makes me wonder what we're all doing sometimes.

But anyway....

I saw a show on the Discovery Channel last night called "Rising:  The Rebuilding of Ground Zero".  It was very well done and I recommend trying to catch a repeat of it if you can.  It walks through the building of the Freedom Tower, the Fountain Memorial and the Museum that all currently sit on the Ground Zero site. All components of the site are due to be completed in early 2014.

It's impossible to watch this show with a dry eye, especially when they interview the plumbing foreman responsible for all the piping and pumps that will move the water up, over and into the Fountain Memorial.  His mother died in 9/11 and he very much feels that he's building the fountain for her since he never got to say goodbye.  Very touching....the raw emotion is palpable.  I can't even comprehend it.

But the show did not dwell on the feelings of sadness so much as it painted an optimistic picture of looking forward, and of transforming that space into a beautiful memorial park where everyone can go to sit, learn, absorb, and take a deep breath to think about the enormity of it all.  And dare I say that maybe people will also think about themselves a bit as well, to reflect on what's important to them in life and how we can all make things a little bit better if we try.  Although it will be emotional going there for sure, I can't wait to see it.  It will be stunning, in a good way.

So on this 9/11 anniversary, I'm not filled with all of the negative images from that day.  Instead, I'm filled with the positive and forward looking images from that show that I saw last night....and the comments of the family members who were interviewed that were crushed by loss and are looking to the rebuilt site and memorial as a way to not only reflect and remember, but to very much move forward in a positive way as well.

Out of darkness sometimes comes a light.....and maybe the rebuilt site and memorial are just the light that we all need.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Journaling with Day One

A while back, I wrote a blog entry discussing why I started writing a personal journal and reviewed the iOS and Mac app that I use called 'Day One' that help me do it effectively.  That article is located here on my blog:

Today, I ran across a great set of articles of a similar nature written by a guy named Tulio Jarocki, but his articles go into much more detail than mine and really touch on some of the great reasons for journaling and why 'Day One' is so effective as a tool to do it.

If you're even remotely considering journaling but aren't quite sure how to get started or even what really might interest you to write about, give this set of articles a read.  There are so many good reasons to journal, and I can almost guarantee that when you sit down to read it years from now that it will provide a great and interesting glimpse into your personal history.

The five articles by Tulio are linked to from this page on the 'Day One' website: 

Happy journaling!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Review: ProCamera for iPhone

I'm big into the hobby of photography, and have been for years.  I own a lot of good DSLR equipment (bodies, lenses, flashes, remote timers, etc) and use it to obtain the best quality that I can when I'm out shooting.  You can see some of my photos here:

Some time recently though, I got tired of hauling around all of that heavy equipment in a separate backpack and migrated to using a high quality Canon compact camera on more and more occasions.  Stick it in my pocket and away I go.  And even more recently, I've been subscribing to the photography adage that "the best camera is the one that you have with you", which would be the camera on my iPhone 5 that I always carry with me.  Apple's new TV commercial captures the essence of this point nicely.  You can see it here:

My problem with the native iPhone camera app is the lack of control that I have over it.  It's designed for simplicity and ease of use, and it excels at that.  It has the HDR and Panorama functions that are quite handy, but beyond that there's nothing in terms of user control for creative photography.

Photographers know what photographers want, so enter the plethora of iPhone camera apps designed to provide more functions than the built-in Apple camera app provides.  I don't know how many camera apps are in the Apple App Store, but there are a lot.  Some top examples that I've used and like include Camera+, Camera Awesome, and Kit Cam.  All of them include some handy unique features and built-in editing capabilities that keep me using them periodically for special needs, but I was still on the hunt for the perfect all-around camera app.  And then I found it!

The name of my favorite advanced iPhone camera app is ProCamera, and their website is located at this link:

Here are some things that I really like about this app that make it stand out above the rest and help to satisfy my creative shooting needs when I feel like pushing my iPhone to its limits to make a special shot:

  • Separate exposure and focus lock controls.  A must for creative image control.  These are also available when shooting video, which is huge!  This is the only app that I know of right now that offers this.
  • Continuous focus during video
  • Image stabilization
  • Video stabilization
  • Histogram display.  Handy to see when you're pushing the limits of the lighting...
  • Shutter speed and ISO displays.  Handy to understand what you're dealing with so you can compensate if necessary (e.g., steady the camera for a shot with a very slow shutter speed).
  • Separate shutter buttons for taking a stabilized shot or a regular shot.  Stabilization sensitivity is user-controlled.
  • Quick-button switching between camera and video
  • Auto ISO boost for getting better shots in dark situations.  Great feature!
  • JPEG compression level control
  • Rapid and HighSpeed shooting modes
  • Pro Lab is a full suite of color and exposure correction editing tools that are very handy to have on-board within the app and are easy to use.  There are also Pro Cut (a cropping utility) and Pro FX (some color and lighting presets) but I don't use either of these too often.
  • .....and more!
...and of course the app has all the standard photo app features like grid overlays, self-timer, level, sharing to social media sites, etc.

As you can see, there are a lot of features to expand your creative horizons, but the nice thing is that the interface is designed to keep most of it out of your way until you want/need it.  Nice job!

The app has performed flawlessly for me over time and has therefore earned a place on my home page for rapid access.  I still use the built in Apple camera app to shoot panoramas and HDR, but other than that.....this is my go-to photo app on the iPhone.  Well worth the few dollars that it costs, and highly recommended!

Friday, March 22, 2013

No matter what, keep your creativity alive!

I've received emails from all over the world about this blog (which shows me that people are actually finding and reading it, which is cool), so I try to put material up here that can be of value to people who happen to to come across it.  I would like to relay a short story to you...

I'm not complaining or looking for sympathy, but I had a hellish year in 2012.  I'm glad to see it gone!  Work was a total physical and mental overload, I had some health challenges, things were constantly going wrong with the house that had to be fixed, big money was pouring out the door on unexpected expenses, I started several large home projects (none of which I could finish because of lack of time), etc.

I'm sure you've all been there...and maybe I can pass along this experience to somehow give people who occasionally have to deal with sustained crappy circumstances like this a way to pull yourself out of it.

Honestly, if it wasn't for my wife and kids and the enjoyment I get out of our family life, I think I would have jumped off the roof of my house last year because I was going nuts!  :)

And something else happened along the way in 2012 that was worse.  I just felt generally "off" much of the year, and I'm not normally like that at all.  Looking back on it, I lost a bit of myself along the way in all this chaos and I didn't even realize it until things calmed down a bit and I was able to take a breather to think.

Today it dawned on me why I felt "off".  During all of the chaos around me, I gave up everything in my life that had anything to do with creativity.  I gave up reading, writing, photography, music....everything.  The creative spark was totally gone.  Since I'm a creative person in general, this was a big loss that I didn't even realize was occurring until it was already long done.

So how to snap out of it?

First, realize that even though constant ongoing problems might be inconvenient, expensive, and time consuming, it's not the end of the world.  Shit happens.  And then more shit happens. And then more.  And your job is killing you.  And the house has problems.  But hopefully it eventually comes to an end and things settle down.  Eventually there's a window of opportunity during all of the bad news and that's the time to find a way to deal with it and pull yourself up from the mess.  Look for that window of opportunity to clear your head.

My Carvin LB70 bass, out of its case for playing again!
Second, don't give up on yourself.  Last year, during this one month in particular, I felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown if one more thing went wrong.  And guess what.  The "one more thing" did happen that same week...and it inconvenienced the family and cost $2,500 to repair right in the middle of the Christmas holiday season.  Did I have that nervous breakdown?  No.  In fact, it was just the opposite.  It was the slap in the face that I needed to pull myself up and solve some of these things that had mounted up on me.

Third and most importantly, don't lose yourself.  I lost myself last year by giving up my creative hobbies and activities.  Find something that you enjoy and make the time to do it.  It doesn't matter what it is, just make time for yourself.  Notice that I didn't say "find the time" because you won't find it during trying circumstances.  You have to "make" the time by sacrificing something else (maybe those hours of TV watching?!).

My new Mitchell MD100SCE, ready for learning!
Now I'm back on track!  I made a commitment to myself this year not to let this happen again and to ensure I've got time carved out for myself.  To start with, I'm doing something I've wanted to do for years:  I bought an acoustic guitar and I'm teaching myself to play!  I made the time to do it by cutting out a few TV shows each day which now clears the way for me to practice and enjoy the sounds of my new hobby.

I'm also practicing bass again, getting back into my photography, reading, planning to use my Mac computer and GarageBand to record some rudimentary songs, etc.  And of course, enjoying the family time!  All of this has done wonders for my outlook....and I vowed not to lose myself again by giving up the things that I like and my creative outlets when times get tough.

I don't profess to be an expert on this stuff, but I hope this article helps someone/anyone who happens to stumble across it on the web.  Pull yourself up and get out there to enjoy life!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Review: Day One journal app for iOS and Mac

"People today are busier than ever and rarely take even a minute to stop and reflect on the day".

This is a statement from Paul Mayne, creator of the 'Day One' journaling app for iOS and Mac, and I agree with it 100%.  It speaks to the rush-rush world that we all live in these days when we barely have a minute to sit down and think to ourselves, let alone reflect on an entire day.  

I absolutely can't believe how time is flying by these days, especially when I get exceedingly busy at work and it causes me to lose track of things even more.  One minute it's April and I'm enjoying the warm days of spring, then in the blink of an eye it's the end of summer, and another blink later and it's snowing in the middle of winter.  The years are just blowing by....and sometimes it's a bit disillusioning to me.  Actually, it's a lot disillusioning!

For this reason, I've always wanted to keep a write down some quick thoughts from any given day that I might otherwise forget and then be able to reference them in years to come to see where I've been, where I am, where I'm going, etc.  A way to re-live memories.  It's also a way to track ideas, goals, etc.

The problem with keeping a journal in the past was making it easy to keep up with it.  I'm not one to sit down and write with a pen and paper for 30 minutes to catch my thoughts from the day...I just don't have the time and it's inconvenient.  Keeping books of journals around is also clunky.  Whatever journaling mechanism I use, it needs to be fast and easy.  I tried doing it on a computer once, but unless I was where the computer was when I had a thought (which was not typically the case), I wouldn't do it.  So all of my previous attempts to keep a journal didn't work out.

And then came along the Day One app for iOS and Mac.  This single app completely opened the door to an easy, quick, effective, and elegant way to keep a personal journal wherever you are, whenever a thought hits you.  It's got just the right features to let you get your thoughts stays out of your way and lets you think.  It syncs across all of my iOS and Mac devices instantaneously and works on all of my Apple devices (one of which I have with me at all times).  So therefore, this became the perfect journaling solution for me and if you're looking for something like this then Day One might be just right for you too.

People who have read any of my other reviews on this blog know that I don't spend time talking about each and every feature of something when I review it.  There are already some great and very thorough reviews of Day One out there and I prefer to link to them instead echo them.  Here are some links to just a few:

  1. The New Day One -
  2. Day One:  A Gorgeous, Synchronized Journaling App -

So all of this being said, which are my favorite features of Day One?  They include:

  1. It works across all iOS and Mac devices, meaning I can always write when I want to on whatever device I'm using at the time.
  2. One button click to start a new entry.
  3. Automatic, instantaneous cross device synchronization.  
  4. I like the way the Mac app combines multiple entries from one day into a single entry and timestamps each one of them for a clean view of a single day.
  5. I like the auto adding of weather and location to entries.
  6. Tagging and search functionality to easily categorize and find entries.
If you're in the market for an iOS/Mac journaling app, give Day One a try.  I think you'll find, as I did, that it's just the ticket to get your journaling activities started....and keep it going.  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

GE F7 error on oven

I haven't written on my blog in a long time.  This has been a horribly busy year at work and everything else in life has been bounced around because of that so writing became a low priority.

But today I was motivated to write this quick post that I hope people are able to find using Google and use it to help them solve this miserable F7 error code with the GE Profile JTP56WA3WW (or JTP56WOA3WW) double wall oven.

We've had our oven for 11 years and for the most part everything has worked fine.  The one nagging problem that we've had intermittently over the years is that it occasionally starts beeping with the F7 error code on the display and this error basically shuts down the control panel and causes the temperature settings, timer, and clock to go crazy.

This seems to be a fairly well known issue with this oven (Google the model number and "F7 error" and you'll see) and I've tried many different internet remedies over the years that only temporarily fix the problem, and then it comes back again a few months later.  Then I stumbled onto the link below and it permanently solved the problem.

It seems that the oven control panel builds up a short circuit over time because of the way that the control panel ribbon cables attach to the circuit board passing through the metal control panel frame.  When the panel short circuits, the F7 error is displayed and the oven goes crazy.

The solution is described in the PDF located at this link on Appliance Blog (with text and photos):

What's described in the PDF takes only minutes to do and permanently solved the GE F7 error on my oven.  Never again will you be awoken by your oven going crazy and beeping in the middle of the night.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Using Photoshop Levels - Quick, easy, effective

Hello again, everyone!

It's been a long time since I've posted to my blog (about two months!).  I can blame life for that. :-)

In addition to a new role that I got at work that has created 15-hour work days recently, a lot of things have been going wrong or simultaneously breaking around our house and these things have taken high priority to resolve over everything else.  Washing machines, dishwashers, cars, you name it.  Things have not been going well...

But since I got a minute to breathe this weekend before heading out for a hike with my daughter, I came across this short article and decided to post it here because it makes some good points about using Levels in Photoshop for quick and significant fixes to the most common technical/exposure photography issues.

The article is located here:

For a variety of reasons (e.g., camera settings, exposure mistakes, etc) photos can sometimes come out of your camera looking flat and dull.  They lack the "pop" of a properly exposed and edited photo.  People often ask me what the fastest way is to fix this in Photoshop, but that single question opens up a Pandora's box of answers because there's always more than one way to fix things in Photoshop.

Since Photoshop is such a massive beast of a program, I often try to guide people to the easiest way of doing something and still obtain proper/usable results.  For the type of situation that I'm talking about above, often using the basic Levels function is enough.

Check out the steps in this article on a sample photo of your own, and if you like the results that you get then I suggest developing a further understanding of what Levels can do for you quickly and easily.  There are any number of tutorials available on websites like Digital Photography School and others.  Enjoy!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

'Twas the Night Before Christmas at World Disney World Resort

I would like to say Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year to the readers of my blog!

Whether you arrived here by searching for something on the internet or you're a regular reader of what I write, I appreciate your support throughout the year and the nice emails that people have taken the time to send me from all over the world.

2011 was a hard year for many people.  I hope that 2012 is better, and that the world can take a pause, get itself back on track, and that we can all have more to be happy about.  

To spread some holiday cheer, here's a short video from Disney about the "Night Before Christmas".  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Review: Apple TV, streaming your photos from your computer, and much more!

This is another one of my "real world" reviews where I provide feedback about what a product does for me in every day use, and what I like (and/or don't like) about it.

The latest great thing to enter my family's life is Apple TV.  Talk about a magic little black box!  This is the best $99 that I've spent on home entertainment in a long time.

You can search the internet for all kinds of exhaustive technical reviews of Apple TV that detail every feature and specification of the device, but that's not what you'll find here.

What you'll find here is a short article about why this product impressed me, and why I hope that Apple continues to build on this platform in the future for home entertainment.

Let's get some essential links out of the way right now:
  1. Link to the Apple website for all the information about Apple TV
  2. Link to the Remote app in the iTunes store for your iPhone and iPad
And now the background information on why I went out and bought Apple TV...

As anyone who has tried to do it knows, streaming your media (photos, music, movies) from your computer onto your wireless network and around your house for watching and listening on your stereo and TV's is a giant pain in the neck.  I've been trying to find an easy way to do this for years, and every approach that I've tried ends up running into problems or limitations.  I've tried stand alone software to do it, Windows Media, Player, and other mechanisms, and every one of them had a problem that made the solution fall short.

The Digital Living Network Alliance was supposed to make this a lot easier, and it has in some respects....but it still falls short because its standards are not keeping up with the expanding technology that it was meant to work with.  I'll give you a perfect example of this....

My blu-ray player can stream photos from my PC to my TV using the DLNA standards.  Although the streaming was painfully slow, I did eventually get this to work and was thrilled to finally see my photos appearing from my computer on my widescreen high-def TV.  Or so I thought.

One night when looking at photos using this setup through my blu-ray player, I noticed that all of the photos from one of my cameras were not showing up.  The problem?  The DLNA standard only streams photos up to a certain size.  So, advanced cameras that produce large image files are out of luck with DLNA devices.  The photos will not get streamed.

Damn.  Back to the drawing board.  After doing more research on this, I was not able to find an easy and cost effective way around it, so I gave up.  To this day, I'm amazed that someone didn't come along and solve this problem before Apple.  Companies like Microsoft, Cisco, Netgear, Sony, etc, are all right in the middle of this dilemma, but none of them offered a holistic solution.  So, as has been the case in the past, Apple came along and kicked them in the butt and offered up a great solution.

I went to the Apple website and read all that Apple TV can do.  It can stream photos, music, video, internet content, etc, through my internet connection to my TV.  Plug it in, and go.  I wondered if it could really be that simple, but knowing Apple I figured that it probably was, so I went to the Apple Store and bought one.

I bought it home, took it out of the box, spent ten minutes setting it up, and my photos appeared from my computer on my TV.  I was blown away at the ease of it!

I then tried to access my iTunes music library from my couch using Apple TV to play it through my stereo.  It worked.  Easily.

I also tried to access my Netflix account to stream some HD content through Apple TV.  It worked.  Easily.

After installing the Apple Remote app on my iPad and iPhone, I can now control Apple TV and my music streaming, etc, from anywhere in my house.  Fantastic!

There are other set top boxes that also handle these functions, namely those from Roku.  The issue there is that I'm not sure how tightly integrated they are with iTunes or the iPad/iPhone.  I doubt that Roku would be able to harmonize with the Apple iTunes entertainment paradigm as easily as Apple TV does.  This is why I purchased Apple TV.  I wanted an easy environment to handle all of these things seamlessly.

What doesn't Apple TV do?  For one, it doesn't stream content from services like Amazon Streaming and Hulu Plus....yet.....but Apple could probably add those services in the future if they want to.  Apple has to walk a fine line between working with their competitors to make their own Apple products more appealing, but they can't cross the line too far and let their competitors sneak too far into Apple's domain.

In summary, for $99, Apple TV is hard to beat for the specific purposes that I mentioned above.  I encourage you to visit the Apple TV website to see if it's a match for your needs.  If not, then check out Roku as a next option, but as I cautioned above......I don't think Roku will work as nicely with the Apple iTunes environment.

In any event, the main benefit of these boxes is to liberate your photos, music, and videos from your PC in an easy way, and I can say for sure that in that respect Apple TV highly succeeds!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Treasure trove of iconic Corbis photos

Below is an interesting video from CBS News that discusses the massive historical photo archive of Corbis that's stored underground at an Iron Mountain facility in Pennsylvania, USA.  I thought people might be interested to hear what's in this massive photo archive, how it got there, and why.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Gobble This Up!

I saw this just now and I had to put it up here.  I cracked up laughing when I saw this Thanksgiving cheese ball recipe. This little guy looks so cool, I don't think I could eat it!

Just a note to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!  If you're traveling over the holidays, I wish you safe journeys!

Gobble This Up: Thanksgiving Cheese Ball

Monday, November 21, 2011

An important CNN article to read: "Have they gone nuts in Washington?"

I have a pretty optimistic viewpoint in general.  Not many things get me down and you won't see me filling this blog with post after post of complaints because that's not what I'm about.  But today I'm downright depressed, and I'll tell you why.

I keep up to date on the current happenings with the debt crisis because it will have a profound impact on my family's life for probably a decade or more to come.  As I've watched this crisis unfold over the period of the past few months, I absolutely cannot believe the level of stupidity that exists in our government today.  Almost every major politician is a complete moron. Listen to them speak.  Morons.  Listen to their points and counterpoints as they argue with each other.  Morons.

Most people will say, "Isn't that the way it's always been"?  My answer would be no.  There's something more going on here.  The sheer recklessness with which these people are operating is beyond comprehension.  I don't proclaim to be "Mr. Politics" or anything like that, but what's happening here is something that I (and many other people) have never seen before.

To read what I'm talking about, read this editorial piece from David Gergen on today:

David hits the nail right on the head with this statement:  "It's difficult to remember a Congress that has put the nation at so much at risk in the service of ideology and to hold onto office. Partisans on both sides are grievously failing the country".

The principle of compromise for the common good that this country has always operated under is completely gone these days.  

You can look at this from any viewpoint and it's a disaster.  The reputation and well being of our country is faltering.  The finances of millions of Americans are in ruins.  People who were counting on retiring in a few years now have to scrap their plans and find a new way to get by.  People (including me) saving for college for their kids have seen those savings accounts decimated which will alter the types of schools that my kids can attend in the future.  Unemployment is soaring.  Companies are faltering.  This is an absolute disgrace.

And President Obama, a man that millions of people (including me) thought would be able to bring this country and its politics together when he was elected, has completely and utterly failed as a leader.  I certainly don't expect Obama to fix the economy on his own, but I do expect him to be a leader...which he has not been.

Like him or hate him, Donald Trump said something that's very true today.  He said that if President Obama was so worried about the Supercommittee succeeding, then he would have chaired the committee himself to guide it through these troubled times.  I couldn't agree more!  But instead, Obama was completely hands off and let the committee go down in flames.

So, yes, this depresses the shit out of me because there's no light at the end of the tunnel.  All of the Republican candidates running for President are idiots.  If Obama wins again, the deadlock will be even worse because Republican resentment toward him will be out of control.

So who the hell can we vote for?  I have no answer to that question......and what I'm afraid of is that nobody else does either, and that we're in for some real, long, hard times.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

An update on the Cape Wind project

In my previous post at this link on the topic of the wind farm project off Cape Cod called "Cape Wind", I railed against the people opposing this project because it represents such a milestone for major U.S. alternative energy projects and it will be a real shame to see it defeated.

The people opposing this project are short sighted and naive, it's as simple as that.

But what makes matters worse is the fact that the government compounds the stupidity of the project's opposition by slowing the project's progress to a crawl.  This sentence caught my eye in the article:  "The FAA has reviewed Cape Wind for eight years...".  Seriously?  Does the Federal Aviation Administration need to take eight full years to review flight patterns over this proposed wind farm site?  Eight years?!

Here's a link to an article in USA Today with more information about the status of the project:

At this rate, alternative energy in the U.S. will catch on when we're all gone and the animals roam the earth freely once again.  The U.S. government is one of the biggest obstacles that exists to alternative energy, and any politician who says otherwise is a liar.  Did you know that the U.S. government still subsidizes the oil companies?  Exxon/Mobil made $50 billion last quarter alone.  Why do they need to be subsidized?!  Seems like they're doing just fine to me without anyone's help...

The U.S. government needs to step in and for once make a difference in a positive way.  These alternative energy projects should be given an express path to approval.  They save energy and create jobs.  The government should mandate that all new construction obtains some percentage of its energy supply from solar panel installations.  Etc, etc, etc.  The government has the power to do all of this, but they do none of it.

As long as projects like Cape Wind continue to receive this type of intense opposition, alternative energy in the U.S. will remain nothing but a joke and we'll continue to rely on oil for the bulk of our energy.  The government needs to stand up for what's right and the opposition to these projects needs to clear out......for the good of the country and the environment.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The whole world is watching and the power of social media is in your hands

It has slowly gained momentum over the past 2-3 years.  In 2011, it absolutely exploded.  Everywhere you look social media is impacting people on a daily basis.

Finally, the "little guy" has a voice.  Anyone can speak out about anything, any time, and get local or global attention on their cause if their message is supported by others and spread using social media tools.  Most importantly, social media is being used to expose and correct government, social, and corporate injustices around the world.  This is perhaps one of its most compelling uses.  As I said, it gives the little guy a voice.

If you watch the news (and your favorite social media sites), there are countless examples of global change going on at all levels right now that would have been impossible without social media.

Governments in Egypt and Libya have been toppled.  Syria is probably soon to follow.  All because the world connected through social media and saw the cause of the citizens of these countries, and it fueled the fire that was already burning.  Ruthless dictators must go, and social media gives the citizens their chance to make it happen.

The Occupy Wall Street movements have brought unprecedented exposure to corporate greed, and social media spread the protests globally and they've caught on in other countries as well.  It has shed light on global corporate greed in a way that's never been done before....from a grassroots level.

Let's look at things from an individualistic consumer viewpoint, and how we interact with some of the companies that we do business with and how social media has changed the playing surface...

Netflix, in one of the greatest corporate blunders in recent memory, went to change its entire business model in ways that completely angered and alienated its subscribers.  Netflix clearly has no understanding of its customer base or what they want.  What did people do?  They hit Twitter, Facebook, blogs, news outlets, etc, with a massive social media campaign that literally pounded Netflix into submission and forced them to reverse direction on their business model.  Individual people.......affecting the business model of a major corporation in only a matter of weeks.   Netflix was ruthlessly punished by the very customers that pay for its services.  People canceled their subscriptions by the tens of thousands to voice their opinion to Netflix.  Great!

Or, how about bank debit card fees.  Certain banks announced recently that they would soon be charging monthly fees to use their debit cards.  Social media to the rescue!  After just a few weeks of very public outcry and rage, the banks backed down and reversed decision on their new fees.  Score another win for social media.

Social media tools will force people, corporations, and governments to begin to act in a more socially conscious way whether they like it or not.  All of these institutions are being stung by citizen and consumer backlash through social media, and don't think for one second that they're not worried about it.  They are.  It will change things, and it already is.

Use social media to your advantage.  If you feel wronged by a local company, politician, major corporation, etc, hit the social media tools and let people know.  Spearhead a movement to force change for the common good.  Right the wrong.

And on the other hand, if you have a positive experience let your friends on Facebook, Twitter, etc, know about that too.  Point them to the people and companies that do responsible business.  Reward the good, and punish the bad.

The whole world is watching.  Let's use social media and work together to make it a better place to be.  The potential for everyone to do here.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Good old innovation at work

You want to see something cool?  Check out the video above about what these people who run JP Aerospace did for a fraction of the cost of what the major aerospace companies are spending to do basically the same thing.  Their JP Aerospace blog is located at this link.  Look at the photos in their blog post from October 24th.  Fantastic stuff!

I really like to see these types of stories.  People thinking of out-of-the-box ways to get amazing things done that big, bloated, hierarchical companies can't achieve with ten times the resources.

Way to go JP Aerospace!  I hope these experiments lead to great things down the road!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The story of the Walt Disney World Railroad

Did you ever wonder where the trains that run around Disney World as part of the World Disney World Railroad came from, and why?  As with most things Disney, there's an interesting story behind it.

The video below provides history and footage of Walt and the Disney trains and how they came to be.  Many people don't know that Walt Disney had a lifelong love of trains and that he even had a scale model working railroad in the back yard of his house in California that he used to take people for rides on (it's shown in the video).

On a side note, the person narrating the video (Disney Historian, Jim Korkis) has a great book out called "The Vault of Walt" that's filled with tons of historic Disney information like that found in this video.  It's a fascinating read that provides a lot of insight and anecdotes about who Walt Disney was, what he was all about, and why he was driven to do the things that he did.  Very good read...

Enjoy the short video!

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Dark Secret Of Digital Photography - Rob Sheppard

Every once in a while I post a link here on my blog to what I think is an exceptionally good article published in one of the major photo magazines that will help people.  This is one of those times!

Here is a link to an article called "The Dark Side of Digital Photography" by Rob Sheppard.  It's one of those articles that cuts right to the point of how to easily and effectively improve the quality of your images during post-processing in photo editing applications.

Specifically, this article deals with an effective way to handle the dark areas of your photos, and why you should do it to improve the overall quality of your images.  It's enlightening reading, and it contains several example photos that match up with the simple technique (sliding one slider!).

Additionally, Rob makes some comments that I agree with about the "expose to the right" technique in digital photography.  I never really brought into that concept and I'm glad to see someone of Rob's status in the photo industry debunking it to some degree.  He makes it clear that this photography exposure technique might get you some benefits in some limited situations, but you'll often end up losing more than you gain.

Understanding tonal range and balance in your photos is a critical concept to improving the quality of your images.  Having an easy way to help with achieving that balance is great!  This is an effective article on how to understand and achieve that balance....easily.  Check out Rob's article.  It's time well spent...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Apples and Autumn

"Apple Orchard"

Nothing says "autumn" to me more than the smell of an apple pie baking in the house, a slight chill in the air outside, the first fire of the season in the fireplace, and the colors beginning to change in the leaves.  All of those things are happening at about this time, so the autumn season has begun!

The photo here was taken on a recent apple picking trip that we took with some of our extended family to a farm near our house.  We hit the picking season just right because the trees were filled with apples that were perfectly ready to be dropped into pies, cobblers, and other good desserts.

I gave this photo a selective color treatment because the background was very green and intense and was distracting from the apples in the I got to thinking of just trying a few ways to highlight the bin of apples in the foreground and this is what I came up with that worked out nicely.  It also seems to make the photo a little more timeless for some reason, which black and white often seems to do.  A little drop-shadow around the edges completed it.

Another approach to this photo to emphasize the bin in the foreground would have been to partially desaturate all of the colors in the photo except for the apple bin, which is a technique very often used in commercial photography to isolate the main subject in a color photo.

Anyway....I digress.  One other food thought before I leave.  Apple cider donuts!  I can't even tell you how delicious they were at the farm where we picked these apples.  They were the best that I've ever had.  Piping hot straight out of the cooker with a little sugar on them and into our mouths.  I couldn't stop eating them!  Just that one smell alone says "autumn" to me.  I'm halfway thinking of driving back down there just to get some more!

I hope you enjoy whatever activities you're doing to ring in the autumn season.  It won't be long until the first below-freezing nights are in the forecast!  :-)