Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sony DSC W300 review

I'm a keen photographer, not a great one, but keen. Over the years I've captured a few shots, perhaps 10, that I'm happy with. The transition from film to digital has been tinged with grief and nostalgia for the feel of mechanical film cameras.

The "money" shots, have mostly been because I was there and had a camera with me. (Was it Robert Frank who gave the advice to aspiring photographers asking about equipment, "F8 and be there"?)

I also appreciate "exhibition quality" photographs. After comparing a fine ink jet print compared to my best darkroom effort, I threw out the chemical darkroom.

When I want great quality, I use a DSLR. For every day, I use a pocket point and shoot. 99% of my images are shot with the pocket camera.

Recently it was time to hand down my camera and after careful consideration I opted for the little Sony DSC W300. Here are my comments after more than 500 shots.

w300 front.jpg

It's a lovely looking camera with a titanium coating that I think resists scratching while being light weight. Small and flat enough to really fit in my top pocket was one of my primary requirements.

Only a 3X zoom which is not outstanding but the lens is a maximum of f2.8 so it's worth it. (Those huge zooms are incredibly slow even though the font element might look big).

13.6 megapixels is more than I need so I run it at 5Mp normally.

Starts up reasonably fast, not as quick as a film camera though.

The display on the back is great, the UI is a little bit flashy, with animation and so on. Sometimes I hunt around for things but generally I find them. The main features: macro, flash, and self timer are directly available except for exposure override (+- EV) which requires you to go through the menu button and then possibly more pushes.

The dial has the useful functions I want including High ISO and higher ISO. (More on this later).

Battery life seems very good. I would take it away for a week without worrying.

There's a bunch of fancy functions like recognising faces and focussing on them, even recognising faces and focusing on children's faces rather than adults! (Really, I kid you not). But generally I don't use these.

The best feature is that it has an optical view finder. Very small but there. Being able to hold the camera steady against my face is a great feature for me even if it isn't very accurate.


Doesn't take standard memory. Like SD. I had to buy some mysterious Sony Memory stick to put in this thing. For the features I was prepared to suffer this pain but this is a real negative. Just give me an SD slot next time!

The cable for plugging into the computer is not only proprietary, but I always plug it in the wrong way up first.

w300 socket.jpg

It looks almost the same on both sides and there is no visual clue as to which way is "up".


This is all academic, until you see some shots. I took the shot in this early blog post in a lift under very strange lighting. The point is, I had the camera on me.

In daylight, the photos look great:


What's really impressive is that in near dark like the shot below, available light f2.8 1/20th sec, ISO6400, pictures are still somewhat usable:


Overall, I'm happy with this camera. As I said above, I hate the storage card, the cable and I'd like to tweak the options that are available directly on the buttons. I love the high ISO, screen, and viewfinder.

This review was inspired by the other camera I considered, the Ricoh digital reviewed by Alastair.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Starstuff is back! (as a podcast)

Saw some great news in the paper this morning, Stuart Gary's StarStuff which was taken off ABC NewsRadio has returned as a podcast here.

Indeed it's true. In the first episode of the new series, Gary explains that he's able to use the ABC science podcast platform and promises to maintain the high standard. There is some mention of content changes due to licensing restrictions - something that hindered StarStuff's original attempts at a podcast.

Stuart thanks everyone for their support and says "it's been most humbling".

Like many others, I was outspoken about the loss of this fine program. It's great to have it back.

Great (star) stuff.

Water and pyro rocket test

Neighbour Peter hatched a plan to combine traditional (fired) rocket motors with the new sustainable water and air propulsion. Unfortunately the water pressure seal failed and launched prematurely on us:

We were joined on this test by Alan who had a good time and wrote it up here. Here's Peter's video:

As usual, the rocket video is shot with a little transmitting video camera which has survived amazingly well give the rough treatment.

That dark sky over Sydney came through and dropped snow-like hail on our suburb.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

GutterTool Pro Turbo (with clearvu leaf mirror)!

GuttMaster.jpgThe gutters here at Marxy Manor are full of leaves and when it rains they overflow in all the wrong places.

Being a fan of PVC pipe constructions (see the laptop stand) I had a bright idea that a quick trip to the "$2.50" shop provided the bits for.

To be honest, it doesn't work too well, the mirror goes out of alignment very quickly and the force required to lift the twigs and leaves it too much for the flexible pipe I'm using - perhaps pressure pipe is the answer.


Anyhow, a bit of home invention is great fun. Could this be the next "stump jump plough"?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Low cost embedable frequency counter

Frequency Counter.jpgHeard about this on the wonderful Soldersmoke blog. A flexible digital display for home home brew radios, from Doug N3ZI.

The pre-scaler is configurable to make it useful in ranges up to 50Mhz or so. It uses an Atmel ATtiny24 which comes pre-programmed. The software includes clever things like handling the IF offset.

Normally, low cost frequency counters tend to show annoying jitter in the last digit but the author has overcome this so it seems very stable in operation.

There are three versions of the kit, from $10 to $30 for the full kit. I bought the full kit and it came quickly, went together easily, and worked first time.

I'm thinking of pairing it with a Bitx20.

Thanks Doug!


I've hooked it up to an MMR40 7Mhz rig.

MMR40 counter.jpg

I needed to make a buffer amplifier to boost the local oscillator level enough for the counter. It's based on a snippet from Experimental Methods in RF Design.

rf amplifier.png

The local oscillator output is 0.27V peak to peak, after the transistor buffer it's 1V peak to peak. I used a 2N2222a that I had on hand.

The counter was set to an IF offset of -10Mhz. Doug's software lets you do this with ease using up and down buttons that accelerate if you hold them down.

There's a plastic box HB5970 that fits pretty much perfectly. It's 140 x 110 x 35mm the CPU board slides into slots and I've just used the LCD board as the front panel (a bit ugly but functional).

box content.jpg

Having boxed it all up it looks great:

front working.jpg

I had to increase the input capacitor's value in the counter to get it to be sensitive enough with my buffer to work reliably.

Anyhow, a great kit. Highly recommended.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

iPhoto book in Australia

I've just received the first book printed through iPhoto using Apple's printing service.


The book was assembled in iPhoto from pictures taken with a pocket Sony DSC W300 camera (which I'm very happy with).

It was AU$12.50 for a 20 page (read 20 sides plus front and back cover) 8" x 6" soft cover book.

The books are printed somewhere else in the world and re-posted from Mascot in Sydney (near the airport) so it took 15 days from order to arrival, although it shipped in just two days from somewhere.

I've got to say - it looks great! A very professional looking production that I'm proud to give away and keep on the shelf (I ordered a couple of copies).

Normally, I choose a few digital images to get enlarged at the local printer for gluing in my album, I'm thinking of switching to doing a series of these books for hard copy storage.

The printing is a semi-gloss, sort of waxy look. There's a bit of metamism (that effect where the dark parts of an image reflect light at some angles). It's full edge to edge printing and the preview if super accurate in terms of where things get chopped.

This collection wasn't super quality, many were shot at high ISO (1600), all with available light at a party. I feel that the colours have been a little boosted but overall the effect is great.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Twinkle on iPhone 2 - location based awesome

IMG_0001.PNGI've been hearing about location based services being the next big thing for many years.

Now that I'm playing with Twinkle on the iPhone I'm starting to get it.

You can see, and therefore make contact with, people who are close to you. It can be a little spooky and of course you need to be aware that bad people might be looking for people to stalk close by, but it certainly shows a new way to hook up with interesting folks who you might want to hook up with in "meatspace".

I can see a ton of applications for this already.

Oh, and to take screen shots on iPhone 2, hold down the "home" button and click the top button. The screen flashes and the picture goes in your camera reel as a PNG.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A chat with Ben & Pete podcast - iPhone 3G

We're back with a podcast where we discuss our experiences with the iPhone 3G. The mp3 is here.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Water rocket launch at Killarney Heights

Peter has improved the launch platform and the spin is much reduced now.

Here's just the flight in slow motion:

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sleek Geeks in a lift

sleekGeeks.jpgAfter a talk on ABC Radio National about the iPhone this morning, I was riding down in the lift at the ABC's Ultimo centre, the doors opened, and in walked the "Sleek Geeks" - Adam Spencer (with his bicycle) and Dr Karl Kruszelnicki.

I'm a huge fan of both these guys, and they were gracious enough to allow me to snap this picture as we descended. Adam rode off and Karl stayed for a chat about some computer troubles.

Thanks guys for being so polite in the face of a stary-eyed fan in close quarters.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

I miss Starstuff on ABC Newsradio

I tuned in to ABC Newsradio today and mourned the lack of the regular Starstuff program produced and presented by Stuart Gary.

The site simply says "After eight years on the radio StarStaff takes its last journey across the universe this week. Tune in this Sunday at midday EST for the final episode of StarStuff".

As a devoted listener for many years, I'd like to express my thanks to Stuart and the ABC for running this program. I used to really like listening to it late at night on Sunday nights, the schedule change took some adjustment but the podcast made up for it.

Stuart's enthusiastic and informed presentation and interview style were always welcome and his regular guests were terrific.

Apparently ABC Newsradio is trying to focus more on the rolling news role of the station, which I value too, but lets just hope that all things space are not replaced with all things sport.

I'm not the only one to mourn the loss it seems.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Got a 3G iPhone pretty easily in Sydney

iPhoneQ.jpgI've been hanging out for an iPhone for a long time. Rather than going to the city I decided to head for Warringah Mall north of Sydney.

I got to the Vodafone store at about 8 for a 9am opening. There were 8 people in the queue and security guards hanging around. (The store said they were mostly worried about a robbery over night as the phones were hidden out the back).

Doing the paper work and using the Vodafone systems was an incredibly poor and slow experience. Part of the process involved ringing up and we waited 55 minutes in the phone queue. In the end I brought the phone home to "unbrick" (as they call it).

This little Vodafone store had 60 in stock. Everyone I spoke to in the queue wanted the 16Gb black version, while we were waiting a sales person from Crazy Johns was trying to offload some 8Gb models but no one seemed interested.

My home has poor signal from Vodafone and if the bars on the display are anything to go by reception is better than my past phones. In a call (to Ben) it seems like the audio is good but I do still need to find a good spot at home.

Oh the security guard you can see in the shot rushed over to tell me that I'm not allowed to take pictures after the shot above. Strange days..


So far I've bought the iPhone version of OmniFocus but the syncing update for the mac is due on the 10th (US time) so hasn't turned up yet.

NetNewswire is free so I got that but they want me to sign up on newsgator so I haven't done that yet.

The GPS seems very fast to get a fix, I walked outside and took a picture and the lat long is in the photo's exif.

I wonder why they don't allow a "turn by turn" navigator? I would definitely buy that...

The iTunes remote is kind of cute.

No glitches so far, very smooth user experience.

Update 2

Mobile Me seems to be working now and yes it pushed an email to the phone, it took about 20 seconds. Now, I understand that a single connection exists from the phone to Apple to do the pushing, I wonder if I get charged for that data?

Apps so far

The Apple Remote Control app is really great. I remember they had a patent on this and I'd have to say it blows away any other remote control, at least for talking to iTunes. This feature prompted us to set up some living room speakers connected to a mac and do some music listening.

Truphone does voice over the wifi network. I already have credit on Skype so really that's what I want but until they release I'll use Truphone. Voice quality is fine but the delay seems very long.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Rather than flying or driving, caught the train

passengers.jpgAs the price of petrol climbs my theoretical enthusiasm for public transport increases.

This weekend the family made the trip to Coffs Harbour. Normally we would either drive or catch a plane but along with my fun-loving sister and brother-in-law, we decided to catch a CountryLink train from Sydney Central.

We decided to pay a little extra and go "first class". The best thing about the trip was meeting other passengers. Along the way we had some great conversations and heard some truly amazing stories that I won't betray here.

The staff were really nice and seemed to be even having some fun.staff.jpg

The seats were rather hard and next time I'd consider taking an inflatable cushion of some sort. The trains themselves are very modern and even had a payphone on board (mobile reception was decidedly patchy along the way).

The wine was pretty good (served after noon) but I'd have to say that the food was hearty but not exciting. Here's the roast pork.


Sydney to Coffs Harbour took nine hours whereas the trip by plane is about two all up. I found myself strangely tired from a day of sitting in a chair, but definitely enriched by the experience.