Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7

As I was packing for our recent trip to Florida I looked at my camera bag with my Canon 5D MKII, lenses, battery, filters, and assorted gadgets and thought “man I really don’t want to haul that stuff when I’m really not going to have an opportunity to use it for more than casual pictures”. So I talked with a couple of friends, @mkrigsman and @mfauscette who are my goto guys for the latest in camera gear.

I have a pretty good camera in my Samsung S4 so I didn’t want a point-and-shoot that was little more than the Samsung S4 without the smartphone pieces. but at the same time I didn’t want to spring for a super high end compact camera like the Fuji X100S or the Sony RX1R. I did want a compact camera that came with a high quality lens, not a prime, and was fast enough to perform well in low light while offering the convenience of point-and-shoot. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 and Sony RX100 were on the short list. I chose the Lumix primarily because it was about $200 less expensive than the Sony while offering pretty much the same specs.

The family vacation in south Florida went off well and I have continued to use the camera in a few other instances over the last few weeks. Overall I really like it but given the choice I would spring the extra $ and get the Sony if I were to do it again.

P1000086The Leica lens on the Lumix is impressive and pixel for pixel probably equal to the Zeiss glass in the Sony. I really like the aperture control ring on the lens itself, which is very handy but am wondering how useful the aspect ratio selector is. The low light performance of this camera is exactly why I bought it, and the noise that comes with cranking up the ISO is not actually that severe.

The controls are easy, love the knurled dial on top and like the video button that does not require me to switch modes before using. The on/off switch is easy to deal with on the fly and zooming is fast. Once you get used to the multi-function buttons on the back of the camera you can work these easily enough, but getting used to them is the key. P1000136

The LCD display is sharp and bright but the ability to use it outdoors depends a lot on where and how you are using it. This is something that I found really frustrating and just wanted an integrated viewfinder I could look through. there is an attachment from Panasonic for this but it is an additional $160 and increases the bulk of the camera significantly.

The most surprising thing to me about this camera is the thing I found really annoying. the lens cap! The Sony has an integrated lens cover, the Lumix has a traditional cap that you need to remove before use and if you turn the camera on without removing the cap you have to press a button, any button, for the camera to activate. Little things always prove to be the undoing of otherwise great products. P1000115

In retrospect I would have sprung for the Sony but not because it is that much of a better camera. Purely on the basis of performance it is probably about equal with the Lumix but a couple of design aspects overcome weak spots with the Lumix.

The integrated lens cover is a big plus in my opinion but the overall form factor of the Sony is quite a bit more compact than the Lumix and that makes a difference for a walking around camera. The lens quality is comparable and while I like the manual adjustment rings on the Lumix I have to say that the pancake style lens on the Sony is pretty appealing.

P1000142Both companies offer included software but I did not have the opportunity to use the Panasonic supplied software because they ship it, along with the full manual, on a DVD drive and I do not have a single computer in my house with a DVD unit. I contacted Panasonic support and they do not offer the software as a download. This is a significant failing on their part and I hope they start offering downloads.

You won’t go wrong with either camera and in the future I will be leaving my 5D at home more than I ever thought I would have as a result of what these high performance compact cameras bring to the table.

PS- I have some great action shots from this camera but in each one my children are featured. I generally don’t post pictures of my family in my blog posts so you will have to take my word for it that when it comes to action shots the Lumix handles the task with ease.

Bing/Google Now: Context Wins

I woke up this morning and my Galaxy Tablet reminded me that I have some phone calls, an offsite meeting that will take approximately 20 minutes to drive to, and some interesting news as well as a weather report. It’s easy to overlook how far we have come in the quest to provide useful personal assistants.

Screenshot_2013-03-12-09-20-01While catching up on some reading two articles jumped out at me that really drove home this point, the first is really incremental in nature about Google Now coming to the desktop and the Chrome OS.

Google Now is something that snuck up on me and despite my initial cynicism it has grown on me. When I updated my tablet to Jelly Bean I stumbled on the Now feature when I held the Home button for a little too long. The cards are still pretty sparse but I really like how it pulls things out of my email and present additional contextual information like directions and time to drive, and package tracking information. This is really useful and unobtrusive. I don’t have to manage it, things just happen.

I only wish that Now would support multiple accounts.

The more interesting news piece I read this morning was about Microsoft’s research project, coincidentally (or not) called Bing Now. What is really fascinating about this is how Microsoft is looking beyond what you have on your device and realizing the greater vision of “an internet of things”.

Heavily invested in the vocabulary of crowdsoucing, I think this misses the point that it’s not about crowdsourcing but rather networked devices. Crowdsourcing implies co-creation, being able to find restaurant that isn’t crowded is incredibly appealing and not at all a function of crowdsourcing in the traditional sense of the word. Having said that, if Microsoft can deliver even just a small part of this they will have a winner.

From Dreamliner to Nightmare

Complex systems fail in complex ways not anticipated by engineers. You can over-engineer the systems, test every imaginable scenario, build redundant system coverage, test again. and you can still fail.

emergencycard  Boeing’s nightmare is just beginning, their latest generation airplane, the 787 Dreamliner, has been grounded because of fire danger in the lithium ion batteries used to replace many of the hydraulic systems a plane requires. Not only is this a brand hit for Boeing but it jeopardizes the entire 787 program because light weight is a critical selling feature for this plane and if Boeing has to replace these batteries with alternative technologies the result will be a major decline is one of the most important selling features. range.

Airplane manufacturing is one of most heavily regulated endeavors any business can undertake, right up there with nuclear power plants in terms of scrutiny and certification. Every component is reviewed, tested, tested again, certified and then tested again, so the regulatory system failed as much as the engineering failed. Complex systems fail in complex ways.

The next decade will feature products that are feature more highly integrated technology that is itself more complex than previous generations. Development frameworks for software and embedded systems have advanced by leaps and bounds, but it still is not adequate and redundancy will only get you so far when technical failure leads to catastrophic physical failure, as is the case with an airplane catching on fire.

We need better platforms and tools for integrated systems, for sure, but we also need better simulation environments for engineers to use, and more biologically inspired systems that are self-healing, re-routing, and adaptive in nature.

Windows 8 for a Mac User

I recently purchased an Asus Zenbook Touch laptop to replace my trusty Macbook Air. I was impressed by the hardware design being exhibited by the top tier ultrabook manufacturers, they embody sleek design elements and a fantastic build quality but more importantly Windows 8 has created a once in a generation opportunity to redefine what a PC is and much to my delight manufacturers like Samsung, Asus, Acer, Dell and HP are running with it.

Keep in mind that I switched from Windows to a Mac around the 2003 time period so for me this was not a decision to make lightly. I am accustomed to a Mac and did not object to paying a premium for the experience, however in recent years I was left feeling neglected as everything exciting that Apple did was around iOS while OS X was subject to incremental updates that often brought discomfort (e.g. performance on Lion) and the improved features were clearly aimed at people using iOS (e.g. Mountain Lion).

I long ago switched to Android for a smartphone and have no attachment to Apple’s software applications, instead relying on Google Apps. What I wanted from Apple was groundbreaking hardware that provided well integrated and reliable software experiences and Apple has been coming up short on both counts. Their hardware is consistently well designed and pleasing to look at, externally of course but the new Retina displays are amazing. but nothing they are doing with laptops is disruptive, it’s a turn here and a tweak there.

My Macbook Air was getting a little long in the tooth and in need of replacement. I was intrigued by Windows 8 and on a whim I walked over to the Best Buy a block away from my office and tried a few out. I was really impressed by the array of premium hardware and by how positive my initial hands on experience was with Windows 8. Even more surprising to me was how naturally I was reaching for the screen to interact with the system as a touchscreen.

Before I took the plunge I spent a couple of weeks reading up on Windows 8 and the shortlist of hardware that I liked. The Asus Zenbook, Acer S7, Samsung Series 9, and Sony models were on my list, all featuring an Air like hardware profile, fantastic displays, SSD storage, and comfortable keyboards. I selected the Asus Zenbook Touch because it met all of the above and offered strong battery performance, something the sexiest ultrabook in the category, the Acer S7, did not. I really wanted to convince myself to buy the Acer but the battery issue is a showstopper for me.

I actually found the experience of buying a Windows laptop to be really frustrating on several levels. What these manufacturers need to understand is that Apple flattened out the hardware curve by reducing the options and making it easier to buy. PC manufacturers still dwell on specifications and numbers, and the result is that even when you think you know what you are buying you may end up with something completely different. Asus has a family of Zenbook Prime computers, spread across several major groupings, the UX21A and UX31A groups. In the UX31A group there are 3 distinct models with many option sets. I ended up buying the UX31A-BHI5T11. Really.

It turns out that Asus doesn’t even provide the specific model numbers on their site, I found it on a retailer site in the fine print and then used that to search for other sources. It was a horrible experience and if they don’t come up with a better way to sell these things they will turn away more people than they serve.

The initial experience with the packaging and power up was impressive, Asus has clearly learned from Apple on this front. I was also massively happy to see that the computer was not crapified with manufacturer supplied software, there were a few apps bolted on to the UX but no AOL and Intuit tiles! Power up was instant, per the promise that Microsoft designed to, and the initial setup was really easy. I was on my network and doing stuff within 10 minutes of unboxing the laptop.

The Windows 8 tile experience is really exciting because the desktop does a lot more than just present icons, you can consume content through the tiles and the way the layout is presented begs to be interacted with. I love the touch experience and this is the most surprising aspect of my initial journey. you actually want to use the touch gestures in addition to the keypad and touchpad.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see that Windows found my network printer and set it up without prompting me, as well as provides a “devices” experience for bringing my smartphone and other bluetooth enabled devices into the mix.

Switching from the tile experience to the traditional Windows desktop is not as disruptive as I initially imagined although I am looking forward to more applications that are built to Win8 for a dedicated focus. This is subtle but really does depart from the multiple open windows focus that prior versions of Windows delivered to. I do one thing at a time but I want to rapidly and seamlessly task shift when I am working so that I can do other things in a dedicated fashion. Like I said, it’s subtle but important to me.

Here’s what I don’t like about this so far. The touchpad on the Asus is a challenge, prone to random clicks and gestures. Speaking of gestures, Windows 8 is proving to be a learning curve as it relates to where all the features are, they really need to put in place a better first power up getting started routine to highlight where stuff is. The Asus power supply is really compact but why can’t these manufacturers deliver a magnetic coupling connector? The SSD is pretty small but I decided to take a chance on this because I increasingly use cloud storage for photos and videos (which consume a ridiculous amount of my Macbook’s SSD).

I have been using this laptop for a couple of days now and have not once felt the need to reach for my Macbook except to move files, which thanks to everything being in the cloud now is a breeze. As I get more time under my belt with Windows 8 I will post additional observations and experiences.

UPDATE: It occurred to me that the problems I am having with the Asus touchpad are twofold… it is way too sensitive and does not have adequate “palm rejection” but it is also setup for a right handed user, I am left handed and it was never an issue on the Mac touchpad because there is not an explicit left vs. right in their hardware.

Badass RC Planes

I am giving my son a remote control helicopter (nothing fancy, he’s only 4 1/2) for Christmas. What’s interesting is that when I was a child (or when I was a young version of a child) something like this would be a toy. Today I look at it entirely differently, much in the same way that I would a computer. It’s not a gadget or toy but rather something that could prepare him with skills that could be valuable as he gets older.

200812191436.jpg The X-47 was designed to be adept at long-range surveillance because of its large range and high flight ceiling. And despite being a beast—it will have a 62-ft wingspan and weigh around 45,000 pounds at takeoff—the X-47B is designed for stealth. This aircraft shows the Navy’s growing embrace of unmanned technology, including both unmanned underwater vehicles and aerial vehicles. But the X-47B would be a technological step forward—besides carrying stealth features, it is supposed to have the ability to execute some maneuvers, such as refueling in midflight, autonomously.

[From Northrop Grumman Unveils X-47B Navy UAV - Fighter Plane-Size UAV from Northrop Grumman Unveiled - Popular Mechanics]

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Satellites

Phoneflix has completely changed my interactions with Netflix. Now, wherever I am I can open it on my iPhone and manage my Netflix queue. It’s as random as while watching television or at the car wash or even sitting is a movie theatre watching previews.

TweetDeck (and Thwirl before it) accelerated my twitter usage. Yammer’s desktop AIR client is universally regarded as compelling within our company, contributing to our usage rates.

The Evernote iPhone app is not only handy for putting my notes on my mobile device, but it also serves as notetaker itself when nothing else is available. My connection to Evernote is stronger than just with web and desktop experiences.

For all of the benefits that web-based applications provide, user experience alone is generally not one of them. Small, high performance, persistent desktop apps can intensify usage which can then lead to broader adoption and with mobile apps, specifically the iPhone but eventually more mobile platforms, this goes to a whole new level.

When I talk with companies, big and small, I am struck by the “we’ll do that eventually” attitude that the majority have. The view that these satellite interfaces are somehow optional or just extra is a miscalculation.

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The Power of Good Graphics

I love observing how data is presented for maximum effectiveness. Today I saw a slide that came out of the Congressman Roy Blunt’s office detailing how competing policy proposals would impact the price of gasoline.

I am NOT posting this to highlight partisan issues but simply to highlight how the presentation takes advantage of a graphic that is contextual to the topic at hand, the gas station price sign. This is a really effective slide that presents a lot of information in a form that is easily digestible and has good context to the subject matter.

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What Did Happen to UI Consistency?

Although I rather like Windows Vista — I think the amount of Vista nerd rage out there is completely unwarranted — there are areas of Vista I find hugely disappointing. And for my money, nothing is more disapponting than the overall fit and finish of Vista, which is truly abysmal. It’s arguably the worst of any operating system Microsoft has ever released.

[From Coding Horror: Whatever Happened to UI Consistency?]

I am using MS Office on my Mac and one of the things that I find really irritating is that the preferences panel in Word, Powerpoint, and Excel are all dramatically different. Granted they have wildly different application functions which drives preferences but to do something as simple as set the default file format for saving documents one would think they could just adopt a single unified approach.

Here’s a rundown on the 3 main apps and setting the default file format. Interestingly, I had to do this because I was tired of people emailing me to tell me they could not “open that pptx file” and lacking any awareness of why I need the new file formats I just switched back to the old ones.

Click on the Save panel in Word “output and sharing”:

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Save button in Powerpoint, which isn’t that much different from Word, but it is a really different layout:

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And my favorite, the Compatibility panel under “Sharing and Privacy” in Excel because the Save panel doesn’t actually have save file format options. Also note that the other apps have compatibility options but in both Word and Powerpoint they are completely different options than in Excel:

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Anonymity at the WaPo

I like Brady quite a bit, I met him down at the WeMedia event in Miami. Smart guy and pretty well tuned to the requirements to win in online. Having said that, I’ll give up my right to be anonymous when the WaPo gives up it’s right to quote anonymous sources.

Brady, executive editor of The Washington Post’s online division, said during a panel discussion at the Digital Hollywood conference here that he would like to see a technology that could identify people who violate site standards–and if need be–automatically kick them off for good.

[From Washingtonpost.com wants identities of readers who post comments | Tech news blog - CNET News.com]

Social Software Inbox

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

- Sir Winston Churchill

Whenever I complain about email I am reminded of that quote from the eminently quotable Sir Winston Churchill. Think about it for a second, what would you do without email? The power of email lies in it’s complete pervasiveness and total interoperability, which is far more than anything one could say about any other communication tool except the telephone.

Having said that, the inbox is certainly not without faults. I don’t think anyone would ever say that they don’t get enough email or that it’s even close to be efficient for high volumes. Products have been promised for this but I doubt it’s anything that is solvable within the current email model. Sam Lawrence notices that a lot of social software seems destined for the same problems that plague email, overload:

Even the people who develop email software like Microsoft, Google and IBM know that the inbox sucks. We don’t need a new email inbox we need something completely new. The problem is that Social Software seems to headed into the same problems as email and we certainly don’t need another dump zone.

[From Go Big Always - We need a social software inbox]

It’s hard to disagree with Sam but at the same time to throw the “baby out with the bath water” would be equally hazardous. Part of the solution will be found in our human ability to adapt and filter, which at the end of the day outstrips any software by light years, and the other part will be enhancing the venerable inbox with social graph features the serve to collapse down all the networks we participate in.

FriendFeed has done this to some degree and while it is not email it is also not a stretch to consider that email is just another lifestream that can get pumped into FriendFeed based on predetermined qualifiers. Companies like Xobni are working on unlocking the social graph that is represented in everyone’s inbox, something that a great many of us are anxious to do.

Bringing application function to the lowly email is something else that is really interesting. I’m tempted to say this would be like the old Firedrop stuff or even Zimbra’s email widgets, but I think it’s something different, maybe adding semantic tags and/or microformats with handler apps to email messages. I saw the potential for this when I upgraded to Leopard and saw how email, ical, and address book could be integrated at the message level by simply interpreting that “next wednesday” meant a date that was a week from this wednesday in ical, or that a phone number in a message could be added to the address book with a simple drop down. It’s startling how much you come to rely on this functionality when you have it.

So while Sam isn’t wrong in suggesting that the inbox paradigm is wrong for social software, I think the answer is found in enhancing the social features in email and building interoperability to non-email systems. Inboxes are here to stay, let’s figure out how to get the most of them, I say.