Monday, July 30, 2007

Time Bandits! Err... TimeDrawer

If you want a taste of some of the functionality of Time Machine, the back up system in Leopard, check out TimeDrawer from our friend at OneRiver Software, Masatoshi Nishikata. OneRiver developed the interesting Edgies app I reported some time ago. Edgies allows you lots of drawers and pull out postits on your desktop. 

TimeDrawer logs changes you make to documents, and their history over time. You select the type of document you want to keep track of, then TimeDrawer will save different versions of them for future comparisons. You can watch TimeDrawer do its stuff as you save documents. And you can access the history of a document by selecting it and accessing the contextual menu (right mouse click, or the cog in finder windows) and selecting TimeDrawer. 

As far as I can see, TimeDrawer works best with text documents, allowing you to compare content of different version. And it looks something like the Time Machine previews show. I installed beta 6, and recently version 1.0 of TimeDrawer a couple of days ago. So, I don't have much in the way of long term document evolution to track yet. However, the app seems to be fast, unobtrusive, and seems not to be a resource hog. Hopefully, I'll feel the same way in a week or two of testing.

Give it a try, and post your opinion here if you like. And, BTW, I found this via MacDevCenter.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

New Canon DigiCam

I got sick of my 7.2MP Casio EX Z750 point and shoot, because the lens kept giving me errors when turning on and the damn thing didn't autofocus correctly. I lost too many good shots, because of the autofocus and decided enough was enough. Yes, I installed new firmware on the Casio, but no dice.

So, I started looking into what kind of comparable cameras there were out there. The Casio was 2 years old, so I wanted something with better resolution, anti-shake tech, and an underwater housing option. I also wanted something small and easy for my wife to use. One of the challenges in Japan is coming up with English reviews on the models available here, as often different names are used for the same gear elsewhere or sometimes completely different camera lines. Fortunately, all the major companies' cameras can be switched to English menus. I also found great reviews and information on digital cameras at the Digital Camera Resource Page

After my initial foray to Yodobashi, and coming home with a pile of brochures - I settled on a set of cameras: Fujifilm F40fd, Canon IXY 810 IS, Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3, and Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX33. 

I shied away from Casio cameras - I couldn't bear to get another lemon, and I wasn't thrilled by the options for UW housings. I also shied away from Olympus. Their ยต (Stylus) series cameras look awful, and the controls felt awkward. Plus the options for housings limited, as most of their point and shoots are waterproof to 3 meters. Oh, and Sony was no-go. Too expensive and I'm not doing the MagicStick thing again.

My decision wasn't easy. I favored the Fuji F40fd's controls and handling the most. Unfortunately, it lacks any image stabilization. [Its new replacement, the F50fd, apparently does have it... oh well.] The Panasonic TZ-3 has an awesome zoom (10X) but only 7MP resolution and too big for the point/shoot category. The Panasonic FX33 looked very nice, and came in several colors. Panasonic's image stabilization tech is rated very high too. However, they don't come with any Mac software AFAIK and the options on the menus left something to be desired. Furthermore, both cameras have USB 1.0 NOT 2.0! Unbelievable. That was the killer for me. Furthermore, you had to use a hard switch to access macro-mode - limiting your options (auto vs. manual).

So, I decided to go with the Canon. Considering I have a digivideo camcorder and a new multifunction printer from them - I felt fairly confident.

The IXY 810 is also known as the IXUS 950 IS and the PowerShot SD850 IS Digital Elph; I believe the latter is the model name in the US. It was announced in May of this year, and is an 8.0MP camera with 4X optical zoom. From the moment I popped in the battery after charging it - I was fairly impressed. 

Some points to ponder:
  • I had thought the controls were a bit awkward - but after a bit I found I was incorrect. Basic controls can be accessed by slightly flexing a ring in the direction of the icon you want, and these expand a bit on the LCD screen. Nice touch! 
  • You change shooting modes (play, auto, manual, scene, & movie) by using a partly exposed knurled dial. This seems a bit flimsy, compared to other models I saw. There also doesn't seem to be an audio recording mode (though I never used this on my Casio). The 810 IS also has an optical viewfinder, which I thought was important on the Casio - but I never used it.
  • Taking photos is easy and quick (get a fast SD card), and the camera makes a satisfying clunk sound when you take the shot. This audio feedback is really useful, for those of us who used film cameras in the past. Probably other cameras have this, but I don't recall it on my two previous digital cameras. 
  • The face recognition is fantastic. I was aiming my camera at my daughter today, and she kept moving around bouncing her head up and down. The white face square followed her head across the screen. 
  • Image stabilization works well too, though without a flash it has a tough time in low light levels. I played with the manual setting and cranked up the ISO to the max - 1600. It took photos in very limited light, but the image was quite grainy. I think this is to be expected, though. I'll have to play with manual mode more to see its limits.
  • Movie mode is nice (640x480) and allows me to zoom while shooting. (Many cameras don't let you zoom movies...). Also, images stayed relatively in focus upon zooming. This wasn't true for my Casio. However, I'm not sure I prefer the .avi format over the .mp4 format in my Casio.
  • The IXY 810 IS uses a rechargeable battery, but it doesn't seem to be chargeable in the camera itself. You have to pull it out and pop it into the included battery charger. This means that when your camera runs out of battery, you can't plug it in to keep power in it.
  • Another issue I had was with the 2Gb Panasonic Class 6 SD card I used for storage. This SD card won't mount on my Macs via a card reader after formatting on teh IXY 810 IS. In fact, you can't even reformat it via Disk Utility. So, the only way I can move content to my computers is via the USB connector and the Canon Camera Transfer software. This means you have to have a working battery to transfer photos. This is annoying, but I wonder if it is truly an issue for the Canon or for the card. I don't recall having these issues with the same card on my Casio - but my memory's a bit hazy.
  • The third problem I have is with the macro and flash. If you use macro mode, the lens barrel actually blocks part of the flash! So you get this shadow over one corner of the image. Maybe I shouldn't be using flash anyway with macro mode. However, I imagine flash will be useful for underwater macro shots. Lets hope the flash diffuser helps with this.

MacPak a Waste of Time

Around July 3rd, I purchased a $5 MacPak 5 bundle, as I thought there might be some interesting apps. I received the requisite messages stating that my payment was received (and made by PayPal). And I even received a message stating that the serial numbers were forthcoming.

Unfortunately, when the serial number email was delivered - the message wasn't displayed in Eudora. Apparently, the material was flagged by Eudora's spam scanner. And I couldn't figure out how to display the message. [I don't usually use Eudora these days, but the email my PayPal account uses is archived there.] I redirected the message to other accounts (that I access with Entourage or Gmail) - but no dice. One license (Photostickies) was sent to me separately by the software vendor (DevonTech).

I sent a message to the MacPak CEO (Mark Howson: ) and after a couple of days he told me he would send a new message with serials in a couple of days. This message never came, but I did get a huge load of spam mail from MacPack including a survey. None of my subsequent messages were answered and no serial numbers were sent. 

Today I decided to view the message without encoding, and after wading through shitloads of html I found a license for CastCount and a link for a direct download to a game (Chaos Machine) embedded in the message. Unfortunately, the CastCount license doesn't work with any permutation of my name (including MacPak registered name). Hopefully, the CastCount people will come through with one soon.

I can't understand why Howson would tell me he would personally send the serials in a couple days, then do nothing (three weeks past). I also can't understand why MacPak would send emails that can't be opened.

I was considering a complaint to PayPal, and sending similar comments to the vendors of software sold by MacPak. However, for $5, this is a waste of my time perhaps. So instead, I'll bitch here and hope the message gets out.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Apple Japan Uses Old Web Site Style

This is odd. Apple Japan's website uses the pre-iPhone design - tabbed style. I wonder if this is related to the lack of iPhone's abroad or perhaps the lack of resources being put into Apple Japan.

Is Apple ignoring its foreign markets, because they are all iPhone or nothing right now?

After all, Apple's Japan sales are still anemic and will stay there until Apple releases a product of real interest to Japanese - such as an ultraportable laptop.

I'll have to check other foreign Apple sites to be sure.