This is an old materials engineering handbook that was given to me by a professor upon his retirement from my undergrad university. I believe he rescued it from as it was being retired from the university library. When he was cleaning out his office, he asked a few students to come in, individually, and select two or three books out of his professional library. He’d gotten all the books he wished to keep and wanted to see the rest be put to some use. Though I think he wasn’t entirely sure of all of my selections were so wise (namely, this particular book, as I recall — due to it being sorely outdated by modern experimentation techniques), he let me part with some books that I did indeed find useful.
More importantly, I think, he sent me with a wealth of wisdom about what it means to be a good engineer. The bits of advice he would pass on felt to me like true pages of secret wisdom that had been lost on my generation of engineers. Whether it was proper handwriting technique or that an engineer should maintain a personal library, he knew that teaching students was even more than the technical fundamentals. Being a professional goes far beyond running a set of numbers.
My attitude was pretty much, “Look, we’re in the last chapter here. Anyone who’s come this far and doesn’t want to watch the rest — they’re a minority at best.” People are going to want to see how this turns out. And yeah, this is a very dark chapter. This may not even be the darkest chapter.
So, as part of one of my goals for 2009, we’re starting to shoot more video (mostly of Ainsley, natch). We’ve done so in the past, but with not with any regularity. Though one cannot ignore the fact of lazy parenting, I do think there are other more significant issues contributing to our lack of shooting video around here.
I think it is much more the issue of the technology in question. Our little Canon ZR200 DV camcorder didn’t shoot very high quality video, and it was even poorer when recorded onto an SD card. The process of uploading DV video into iMovie is cumbersome, as the video has to be recorded in real-time from the camera’s playback head. Lastly, despite being relatively small for a camcorder, it is still a large device when compared to a pocket digital camera or even a cell phone — many of which now record video as good as our camcorder.
Let me compare to the nearest medium I can: photography. When we first got a large storage card for our first digital pocket camera, it began to open a world of new uses for that device. Photos were no longer reserved for the must-document moments of a vacation or holiday. They could be used to document anything worth noting. We could practice photos without worry about filling the storage (or development costs, etc.). We began to use photos as visual communication. For example, I could take some photos of some plumbing fixture and show the sales-staff at the local hardware store right from the camera, giving them a much better description of what I needed than my limited plumbing knowledge could describe. I know first hand how digital photos have revolutionized the construction industry in terms of inspections and communication. It’s the economy of free1 come to photography.
A small size also affects how a camera is used. When a camera becomes small enough to be packed into another device — like, say, a cell phone — it’s use changes. Think what the cell phone camera has done for the number of snapshots in the world. I would venture that party or self-portrait snapshots have increased by an order of magnitude due to the ubiquity of small (albeit rather shitty) cameras in the world. Why? Because they’re so small as they can always be on hand. They’re stuck into another device. Even when a camera is still just a camera, if it is sufficiently small someone can easily carry it almost all the time.
With the large storage capacity combined with a very small size, the pocket digital camera becomes a different tool altogether than a small camera with limited storage or a large camera2. I think that having a digital HD video camera that is essentially the same size with an fairly large capacity — say, several hours — equally transforms what a video camera can be used for.
So, I decided to start looking into the purchase of a digital HD video camera.
Features That Appealed to Me
There are now a few options in the (relatively) new class of pocket HD video cameras3. The Zi6 sells along side the similar form-factor Flip MinoHD, as well as a few other solid-state HD cameras with the flip-out lcd screen form-factor. So, why did I decide on the Kodak?
If it had come down to pure good looks, I’d have gone with the Mino. It has a slightly smaller footprint and sleeker looks. However, it lacks a number of features that make the Zi6 the winning option, in my opinion.
The Zi6 does have some on-board memory. About enough for 2–3 minutes of video, I think. It does, however, also use SD cards for extended memory. As we have piles of 1 and 2GB SD cards lying around (it has become the preferred flash storage medium in our household), it was a logical choice to extend their usefulness. Secondly, the Zi6 uses a pair of AA batteries for power. It actually comes with a pair of rechargeable batteries and charger, which is a nice include. Anyone who has ever drained their camera battery only to realize that the charger or cable was left at home knows that sinking feeling of hold a high-tech paperweight. It’s a rare place in our lives that is more than 5 minutes and $3 from a pair of AAs. Not to mention, we own a pile of rechargeable AAs as well4. So, the Zi6 certainly was a better choice to leverage what we already own. Further, the Zi6 has a much larger screen than the Mino. As this is the only view of what you are recording (no view finder on something this small) and it is handy for playback, this also was a big bonus. Lastly, and this cannot be overlooked, the Zi6 is about $50 less than the Mino.
So, Zi6 FTW.
Unboxed, with the handy carrying bag.
I was a bit disappointed by the feel of the device. Though the fit and finish is high quality, the device feels light and plasticy — as though it could crack open with a drop to the ground. I would have like to have seen this device with a more substantial case around it. What looks like metal trim is, in fact, chromed plastic 5However, this is just an impression and it is only fair to point out that nothing has happened to the case in my use thus far.
Also, the quality of the picture is far-from perfect. First, there is a lot of noise in the images. Given that this has been my biggest complaint about my Nikon D50, I suspect this is going to annoy me. But, with more pixels to work with, the adjustments to picture in post-processing can better improve the end product. Also, the camera’s speed is fairly slow6. That is, motion can get really blurry. If my toddler can become a blur of motion, there’s little hope of using this camera to record anything very fast. Also, as you might expect given a camera that weighs less than 6 oz. (and there fore has very low moment of inertia compared to me), the picture can be a bit shaky. Lastly, the low-light sensitivity seems almost non-existent. We won’t be shooting any horror films on this one; or, at least, if we do it will be those awful scenes where there’s just screaming and you can’t make out anything that is happening. The color balance seems to swing pretty wide between blues and yellows, as well. This camera needs even lighting, and quite a lot of it, it would seem.
All that being said: let’s be fair. This is a $150 device that shoots 1280x720 video and, with a $40 card, can store up to eight hours of video at that resolution7. Also, the Zi6 also has a female threaded mount on the bottom, which of course could go a long way to reducing shakiness — either by using a tripod or my $14 steadycam. There is, not surprisingly, no hot shoe for attaching a light or external mic on the Zi6. However, there wasn’t one on our Canon ZR200, either, and that was a let down. Keep in mind, even though it was a cheap camcorder, it was twice the price of the Zi6.
Using the Camera
Like the iPhone, with a similar footprint, the Zi6 is a natural fit.
The device’s size is terrific. It is almost exactly the size of two first-gen iPhones stacked together (that is, same footprint; just twice as thick). I know this because I stacked Angela’s and my iPhones together for comparison.
This includes (as does the competing Flip HD) the swing out USB connector. This is a bit bigger than the Mino HD, but at the trade of a much larger screen. However, it still feels good in my hand and Angela seemed to agree.
Of course, even if the thing was half as thick, it would still be a bit of a pain to actually use the flip-out USB connector to plug it into the back of my iMac. It is about the right height, but those ports are very close together (a USB jump drive is a tight fit).
Use an extension cord for the flip-out USB connector.
However, I also happen to have one of the handiest USB devices around — which isn’t really a device at all. It’s a 1 meter USB cable extension cable. I happened to get this relatively short one along with a legacy serial port to USB adapter I purchased some time ago. However, there are plenty of cheap cables available at Amazon.
There is a disc included with some Windows software for transferring (and maybe editing?) files. Of course, there isn’t any mac software included. But, as I’ve never cared for pack-in software that comes with any camera I’ve ever owned, I really wasn’t planning on installing anything anyway. The included software apparently has some links to quick upload the video straight to YouTube, but I’m not really going to miss that8. Pretty much any computer sees the Zi6 as a USB mass storage device, with the files in sub-folders (just like a digital camera). The files are in Quicktime (.mov) format. Given that every mac comes with Quicktime and iMovie, using them on a mac is actually easier than on a Windows PC. The files are roughly 1MB per second of video (on the 30 frames per second setting), which puts a 2GB card holding approximately 30 minutes of video. Therefore, the maximum video on a single 32GB card is a little over 9 hours. That’s not too bad considering that would be 9 miniDV tapes plus the camera for a typical camcorder.
Currently, we have a very old version of iMovie and it is simply not letting me output the video in its full quality (despite selecting “full quality”, or even the 1280x720 option). So, the best output I could get that reasonably displayed some of the first video we shot is above; hosted on Vimeo. As soon as iLife ’09 is released, I’ll see about re-posting the video for comparison. In the meantime, check out some of the footage shot on a Zi6 at Vimeo or Flickr to see what this little camera is capable of.
After having a DSLR for over two years now, I can tell you that there are some situations that such a large camera just isn’t well suited for. Not that it can’t be used, mind you. Just that the size makes it more awkward and, therefore, less likely to be used in the first place. [↩]
And no doubt many more now, as CES just wrapped up. [↩]
Gee, I hope it doesn’t wear off to that yellow plastic like all of my Transformers did when I was a kid… Am I the only person who notice that? Apparently not. [↩]
It may be possible that using a SD card with a faster write speed may help this, but I’m not sure that is the limiting factor here. [↩]
This is based on the 60 minutes of video for a 2GB card base. The camera can use up to a 32GB SD card. However, given that those currently cost around $130+, I don’t see that as being really practical. After all, it’s not like SD cards really take up much space in your pocket and last I checked 4x16 was greater than 32; at current prices. [↩]
Frankly, the jerks who uploads un-edited video straight to YouTube — video that isn’t of a breaking news event — only hurt us all. Let’s all hope for more editing on sites like YouTube. [↩]
For the past few years, I’ve jotted down some post-game thoughts on Apple’s announcements during their keynote at MacWorld1. I suppose — like the majority of folks, no doubt — I was a bit underwhelmed by this year’s address. Not that Schiller himself did a bad job, mind you. It’s just become clear that Apple has lost most interest in this product show.
iLife & iWork
That being said, I was impressed by a few features that were shown off in the updates to iLife and iWork. I honestly don’t know enough about previous versions of iWork to say much about that office suite, aside from it looks like a reasonably priced competitor to Mac Office 20082. I have considerably more experience with iLife, of course. The updates to iPhoto are much needed. Now with Google’s Picasa (finally!) available on the mac, there exists a very good alternative to iPhoto. Picasa has had some social network website integration already (as has iPhoto with plugins) and I believe Google also even has some of the facial recognition software available. But, having two good choices helps both, in my opinion.
I am especially excited about the update to iMovie, though. As the previous version was a large disappointment to many users (though not me, as I didn’t upgrade yet), this version seems to come with a number of powerful features. I was particularly impressed with the image stabilization feature; especially given the shakiness of our Kodak Zi6.
It appears that the real innovation in the new 15″ Macbook Pro was in the battery. As much as people wish to complain about non user-serviceable parts, I honestly think that issues such as weight and battery life are problems that they will feel more day-to-day. I’ve had my work laptop for over a year now and have yet to take the battery out of it once. One argument is that it is handy to carry a spare battery. However, if you simply double the battery life from 4 to 8 hours, there’s a really good incentive to save your back and not bother carrying a second of the heaviest part of the computer. Equally important is battery life. We have had to replace the battery on Angela’s aging iBook once already. And though there are right and wrong ways to use a battery to extend or shorten its life3, most users simply don’t pay attention to that sort of thing. It’s worthy innovation, if even a bit less sexy than MacWorld keynote announcements of past years.
iTunes Music Store
Speaking of less-than-sexy announcements, the “one more thing” this year was the iTunes Music Store, which of course is now a smaller part of the larger iTunes store4. I think the obvious most significant portion of this announcement was the dropping of DRM. This comes nearly two years after Steve Jobs published an open letter to music labels asking to do away with DRM. Apple has become a huge force in the market and, along with Amazon, show that the tide has turned against DRM. The common, honest music fan now knows what it is and that it only hinders their experience. I think 2008 was the year that DRM died and that future remnants — they will hang on, fighting tooth and nail — are just that.
Let’s briefly look back at some important milestones in the death of DRM during 2008:
As EA slowly seemed to learn a hard lesson, many of it’s top games came to Steam — Valve software’s digital distribution system for games — sans DRM. Of course, Steam is still only for Windows.
Also, it’s worth noting that Apple also has finally settled on a tiered pricing scheme for music on the iTunes Store. Apple had argued against this with a firm 99¢ pricing scheme for, well, since the iTunes Music store was created. However, it appears that this was likely a requirement on behalf of some music labels to go DRM free store-wide (it should be noted that the Amazon MP3 has had variable pricing from its inception). As someone who doesn’t tend to buy anything off the top 40 singles list, I’m not as likely to suffer from the $1.29 price that is mostly likely to apply there. I’ll hopefully be tending towards the 69¢ back-catalog items. However, it’s a small price to pay (literally and figuratively) for a better experience.
MacWorld will happen one more time, as they’ve already booked the Moscone for next year. And should anything worth my mentioning happen, I’ll say it then. However, I’d be very surprised if it survives beyond that. Apple wants total control over their announcement and release schedule in the future. They no longer wish to be tied down to the second Tuesday of the year. They’ll no doubt continue to make their seasonal-ish, keynote style press conferences (macs in the Winter, developers in the Spring, iPhones in the Summer, and iPods in the Fall). But they can time them more to their liking and control the event just as they wish. As many of the large expos are going extinct (E3 dead/ on life support, CES now a fanboy convention for gadget lovers, and Apple bowing out of MacWorld), one has to wonder if blogs and online tech-news sites aren’t the ongoing expos of the future.
With the notable absence of last year. With a new job and pending move, MacWorld seemed less important that usual [↩]
Though, I have a copy of iWork ’05, I can’t say that I’ve ever used it regularly. As a matter of fact, something on my current mac has corrupted the installation and it hasn’t worked in over a year. [↩]
Just as Jason Johnson, owner of some mad laptop battery management skillz. [↩]
Angela is right, they should call it the iStore for consistency. I also think that it is time to re-brand iTunes as iMedia or something less music-centric. [↩]
Over the years, I’ve decided that setting for goals is a better notion that resolutions. A resolution is something that, once you’ve broke it there seems little point in keeping it from then on. They are so all-or-nothing. A goal is something to keep striving for. Even if you don’t reach it, at least you’ve made some progress. So, with that in mind, here are some goals I’m setting forth for Two Thousand Nine (in no particular order):
Write More — I couldn’t write much less than I did last year. I barely managed to get out a post here per month, which is awful. As for Ainsley’s blog, it fared far worse; and that’s what most folks really want to read about! We’ll be doing a similar journal of growing up for Coleman-Dyer No.4 (aka “Baby Boy”), so I’ve got to keep focus and get a good work flow going to keep everyone updated.
My work blogging life has been off to a pretty good start (evidenced here and here), but I need to do more there as well. It’s something that my company really seems to value me doing and I enjoy it. Obviously, it’s a balance between getting my other work responsibilities taken care of. However, I’m really pushing in a direction to merge those together as I think it is a great form of communication and providing information for users.
Take More Photographs and Video — Last year was really a low point as far as this goes, which is disappointing as we failed to capture a lot of Ainsley’s growing in ways I had really hoped to (that being said, there is volumes more video and photos of her than either Angela or I at that age — just as a byproduct of who we are and the times we live in). A lot of this is just forming good habits of having documentation tools on hand and remembering to use them. Having some good, simple tools really helps. So, I just ordered a Kodak Zi6 HD pocket video camera. By all accounts, it’s dead simple to use and produced nice, HD video. Plus, it’s quite small which can’t be discounted in making such devices handy to use.
Learn an Object Oriented Programming Language — I’ve started learning C#, as I think that will help me better communicate with some of my developer colleagues. It’s also a modern derivative of C, so it should (hopefully) help me get closer to learning C++, php, and Objective C — all languages I also would like to know. Johnson keeps urging me to dabble in Ruby, and that may or may not happen. But at least I’ll understand a little more about OO programming.
Mind you, I have no illusions of becoming a programmer full time. I may barely use this at work at all. But, if I can
Learn to use Regular Expressions — Powerful time saving tools which help me get parts of my job (and personal life) done faster. That’s a no-brainer.
Take Ainsley Swimming — There’s a pool just a half block from our house that will be open in late Spring, so my excuses will be hard to come by. She might not do much more than splash around. However, if I can get her to just maybe float and kick a little, I’ll be most pleased.
Finally Get Something Out of Twitter — Call this giving into peer pressure or just getting used to the smell of the Kool-Aid; but I have decided to give Twitter a real chance. I’m not going to treat it as some fringe gadget but a core part of my day and how I communicate with the world. We’ll see how this goes. And, yes; I’m way behind the curve here. I’ll try and keep the dumb posts to a minimum, but actually add some value there to the fast moving cloud.
Run One Short Road Race Per Month — I know; the trite New Year’s resolution: exercise more. Well, this one is a very reasonable one for me and something I used to do with ease (though before having a kid). But even if I have to run at lunch or in the evening, I think I can fit in enough to pull one 5k or 10k out of me a month. I’ll even try and drag Angela and the kids out with me come the summertime.
I think the commonality here is that these all are just using my time better to get more out of my interactions with those around me and those who I want to keep in touch with. Consider it lessons learned from 2008, I suppose. It was a tough year and one that drained me of the will to reach out to others. We’re in a much better place in life now and I have a lot less baggage causing mental fatigue.
So, wish me luck and if you post some resolutions or goals of your own, let me know.