Archive for the ‘Product Recommendations’ Category

Moving to Micro Four-Thirds

Micro four-thirds cameras aren’t exactly new, but in the three years since their release, they’ve grown incredibly popular. A couple of months ago, I passed the confidence threshold myself and ditched all of my Nikon camera gear in favor of “M43″.

The M43 system, to me, is the prosumer system for the next decade. It essentially eliminates the need for two other genres of camera: the standard APS-C DSLR system (e.g. Nikon D90, Canon 60D) and the compact point-and-shoot. By eliminating the camera’s mirror, micro four-thirds offers near the quality of the former and near the tininess of the latter. If you’re buying a camera today, the three smart choices, in my opinion are:

  • A full-frame camera. If you want the very best photos and size/cost is not an issue, a full-frame camera like the Canon 5D (or 1D) will give you the greatest resolution, the best low-light performance, and the most granular control. The cost of entry for a full-frame camera is at least $2500, however, and the ongoing cost is a gigantic piece of lead around your neck.
  • A micro four-thirds camera. If you want a camera capable of taking professional quality shots that is small and light enough to take on vacations and day trips without noticing the extra weight and bulk, this is your best choice. Fitted with a pancake lens, these cameras are just small enough to fit in your pants pockets, if you wear loose pants, and often times, you don’t even notice you’re carrying one.
  • A smartphone camera. Smartphone cameras today are in many ways better than point-and-shoots of only a few years ago. There are many occasions when you just can’t carry more hardware on you, and in times like these, your phone is more than capable of getting you what you need.

With the above three options all widely available now, the need for the point-and-shoot and the APS-C stopgaps just isn’t there anymore. With a point-and-shoot, you get bad low-light performance and no lens flexibility, and with an APS-C system, you get unnecessary bulk.

If you’re looking to move to micro four-thirds, here are some considerations to keep in mind:

Bodies

Whereas Nikon and Canon rule the full sized camera world, the giants are nowhere to be found in M43. The M43 system demands that camera bodies and lenses are interchangeable, even across brands, and Nikon and Canon aren’t used to working this way. In fact, Nikon has just announced a new camera that will compete with M43 cameras, but disappointingly, it will only work with Nikon lenses.

When you are stressing out about what body and what lenses to buy (e.g. Olympus, Panasonic Lumix) just remember that every body works with every lens. You can buy an Olympus body and a Lumix lens if you want. There is no “lock-in” and that’s a key advantage. Right now, Olympus and Panasonic are the only players in the market, but this could expand in the future.

To get my feet wet in M43, I forewent all of the new models and bought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 on eBay. I got the body, a Lumix 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens, and a Lumix 45-200mm zoom lens for $781 on eBay; all in mint condition. The GF1 appears to be a instant classic in the M43 world, with a lot of people claiming it’s still the most fun-to-shoot M43 camera in the world.

If I was buying a new camera today, it would be the Olympus E-PL3 or E-P3. Both have better low-light performance than the GF1 and both have on-body image stabilization (Panasonic puts their stabilization technology in their lenses instead).

Lenses

As is the case in the SLR and DSLR worlds, prime lenses will always provide sharper images than zoom lenses. You’re going to want at least one prime in your bag, and I whole-heartedly recommend the aforementioned Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens. It’s only about an inch deep and weighs 3.5 ounces. The key to this lens isn’t just its compactness but it’s maximum aperture. Although it still can’t touch my beloved (and now departed) Nikon 50mm f/1.4 in low light conditions, it will allow you to shoot bright photos in dim conditions without using the flash.

As far as zoom lenses go, there are a lot of them to choose from, but I went with a Lumix 45-200mm in order to match my previous Nikon 18-200mm VR as closely as possible. In my testing, I would say this lens produces almost the same quality images as the Nikon and it weighs a few ounces shy of a pound. The Nikon is about 50% heavier.

I can’t stress enough how much lighter a M43 camera and lens feels when compared to its DSLR counterparts. When people obsess about the weights of different cell phone models, it strikes me as hollow because they are all trivially light, but when you’re talking about M43 vs. DSLR, you’re talking about pounds of weight off of your neck.

Viewfinders

Some of the bigger M43 cameras have built-in electronic viewfinders, but the ultra-compact cameras all require you to snap one on if you want one. I haven’t needed one yet, but it’s nice to know they are available if you need them.

Interfaces

As with all cameras, try to pick a model that has the right balance of physical knobs and electronic controls for your taste. The GF1 is skewed more towards physical knobs, which I love, but some may prefer things like touch-screens and soft buttons. If you can’t physically try out a camera’s interface before you buy it, try reading what others think instead. I was originally going to buy a Panasonic Lumix GF3 until I read enough reports from people complaining about how hard it is to hold.

New or used?

If you aren’t sure you’ll love the jump to M43, buying used is a good option. A little searching and patience on eBay might get you a nice model to get your feet wet while you wait for the next great innovation. For me, the innovation I’m waiting for is better high ISO performance. While my setup is good in low light, it still can’t match a Nikon D80 (or better) with that 50mm Nikon f/1.4 on it. My feeling is that within a year or so, that won’t be true anymore, and since I’m only $300 or so into this GF1 body, I won’t feel bad replacing it when the time is right.

If you’re going to buy new, as I mentioned earlier, I would probably go with the Olympus E-PL3 or E-P3.

Pine Brothers Cough Drops are back!

Some of the most fulfilling posts to write are the ones dedicated to micro niche topics that no one else is talking about. Through the magic of the Google, your silly little post about obsolete technology X or discontinued product Y can gather visitors over the course of several years, and if you’re lucky enough, you can grow little micro-communities inside of each post. It’s amazing. A few posts Mike Industries posts that created such flash communities are:

  • Too Much Cream of Wheat? — A ridiculous little two minute post I wrote after being surprised at how many Cream of Wheat varieties were sold. Five years and 251 comments later, people are still telling Cream of Wheat stories from their childhood and sharing recipes.
  • Wither the Halogen Torchiere — A post I wrote lamenting the death of everyone’s favorite college dorm lamp. These lamps put off incredibly warm, indirect light but were eventually taken off the market because idiots who threw clothing and other materials on top of them burned their houses down. This one has 315 comments ranging from suggestions on where to purchase replacement parts to ideas on how to make your own lamps (seems like a bad idea).
  • How to Snatch an Expiring Domain — I’m not sure if this is the most popular post I’ve ever written or if the MySpace one is, but this story of how I bought newsvine.com is up to 862 comments now. Unfortunately, I’ve had to delete hundreds more because let’s just say the “community” that cares about expiring domains is usually made of SEO monkeys and likes to use my post as a way to get link juice back to their own cesspools. I actually created a special rule in WordPress specifically for this post that doesn’t allow link juice.
  • Desperately Seeking Pine Bros — Finally, this is the one I’m most proud of. If you grew up in the 1980s, you probably remember a “softish” cough drop by the name of Pine Bros. that came in Honey and Cherry. It was more candy than medication but damn was it good. Some time in the 90s, the company shut down and without any warning, Pine Bros. disappeared from the face of the earth. I wrote a post about it and thousands of Pine Bros. fans have visited to express their support for the product.

Something great happened in the Pine Bros. thread several months ago: a woman chimed in to say that her family had bought the rights to the Pine Bros. name and was hard at work recreating the formula in order to bring them back to market. It seemed too good to be true, but I’m happy to say that as of right now, this great product is once again available! They plan on releasing four flavors for distribution nationwide, but for now, you can just get the Honey flavor at the Vermont Country Store. I ordered three tins. They were predictably gone in less than three days and now I’m ordering more.

Since I had purchased a box of 50-year old Pine Bros. cough drops on eBay a few years ago, I have tested the new drops against the old. The bad news is that they seem to taste just a tad more mild than the originals, but the good news is that it’s very, very close.

If you miss Pine Bros. cough drops as much as I did, quit reading this and get on over to Vermont Country Store already. They’ve already sold out at least once.

Beverage Roundup

I’m not so adventurous when it comes to tasting unfamiliar foods, but beverages are another story. As long as it’s free of sucralose, I’ll sample just about any new bebida I can get my hands on. This habit drives me frequently to high-end specialty markets and obscure mini-marts in search of new elixirs. Below are some of the best drinks I’ve tried in the last several months:

  • Zevia Soda: I’ve never been into diet soda. Something about sugar substitutes just never does it for me. Zevia, however, is the first widely available (in the U.S.) soda sweetened with Stevia, a 100% natural sugar substitute. The sodas don’t taste quite as sweet as sugar-sweetened drinks, but I kind of like that. The orange flavor is particularly good.
  • Jeff’s New York Egg Cream: I’ve always been a huge fan of the good old-fashioned New York egg cream; the drink that paradoxically contains no eggs and no cream. They are tough to find outside of authentic New York delis, but “Jeff” bottles them up and will ship you a case for a reasonable charge. I got a little overzealous and ordered six cases so I’m slowly working my way through them, but they are great. I recommend the chocolate and vanilla flavors.
  • Jones Gaba Tea-Juice: Just tried these for the first time last week. Very, very smooth. They are like a less sweet version of Snapple Iced Tea, with plenty of amino acids and other things that are supposed to make you operate better.
  • Sence Rose Nectar: (Pictured above) This one is tough to describe. Imagine a glass of slightly sweetened water with rose hips infused into it. Pretty good stuff. May also mix well with vodka.
  • Hi Ball Soda: I’ve mentioned this one before. It’s like Pellegrino with a bit of caffeine. Refreshing.
  • Kaboom: Kaboom is an organic energy drink with much more wholesome ingredients than most energy drinks and plenty of vitamins. Tastes good too.
  • Red Bull Cola: This is the biggest shocker of the bunch. I don’t even like Red Bull, but Red Bull Cola is different. It’s not even made by Red Bull, apparently. Not only is this among the tastiest colas I’ve ever tried, but get a load of the ingredients — water, sugar, vanilla, mustard seed, lime, kola nut, cocoa, liquorice, cinnamon, lemon, ginger, coca leaf (!), orange, corn mint, pine, and clove. Wow. Lots of good natural flavors in there… and it’s evident in the great taste.
  • Pinot Noir Wine: Ok, Pinot Noir is hardly new or even novel, but I’ve recently gained a taste for it as my red wine of choice. As a merlot convert, I appreciate Pinot’s mildness immensely. Cheap Pinot, however, seems worse than cheap merlot or cabernet, so my wine bill may be in for a sharp increase in the coming months.

What other novel beverages out there am I missing? Anything new and exciting on the market?

The Best Chips in the World

At the risk of turning this into an all food-recommendation blog, my girlfriend found the best potato chips ever at the store the other day. They are called Flat Earth Baked Fruit Crisps and they are the best thing since Sun Chips. In fact, they make Sun Chips taste like dirt.

The only flavor I’ve tried so far is Peach Mango Paradise and they taste like no other chip out there. Made of rice, potato, apple, peach, and mango, they are flavorful without being salty… a rarity for a chip. There’s also a half serving of fruit in every ounce and no trans fat.

Although I’ve only seen them so far at one store in Seattle (Thriftway), the Flat Earth folks have a handy store locator on their site in order to help you find a bag. Apparently, it’s a Frito Lay brand so it should be widely available.

These are game-changing chips. Seriously.

Hi-Ball Caffeinated Mineral Water is Nice

A couple of weeks ago, I ditched coffee. I was generally a one-iced-mocha-in-the-morning guy with the occasional refresher towards the end of the day.

Bad.

Coffee as part of a routine is kind of like cigarettes as part of a routine. It’s not exactly good for you, and once you’re used to it, you need it just to feel “normal”.

Quitting coffee, however, doesn’t mean I never want an occasional dose of caffeine. There are all sorts of alternatives out there like Red Bull, Jolt, hot tea, or iced tea, but I think I found my favorite:

Hi-Ball Sparkling Energy Water

Hi-Ball tastes like San Pellegrino or Perrier, is available in plain or lightly flavored, and contains no sugar, sucralose, or other sweeteners. Its caffeine comes naturally from guarana berries and it also contains 120% of your daily B vitamins (whatever those do).

So if you’re looking for a reasonably harmless caffeinated drink to try, see if you can find Hi-Ball at your local store. Most places around Seattle don’t have it but I’ve found a few that do.

Shared
Why I Just Asked My Students To Put Their Laptops Away:

A great essay about how toxic everyday distractions can be.

Humanity's deep future:

A group of researchers at the Future of Humanity Institute talk about where our race may be going and how artificial intelligence could save or kill us all.

Steve Jobs speaks about the future at the International Design Conference in 1983:

31 years later, it’s safe to say this is one of the most prescient speeches about technology ever delivered. Jobs covers wireless networking, tablets, Google StreetView, Siri, and the App Store (among other things) many years before their proliferation. A fantastic listen.

How to travel around the world for a year:

Great advice for when you finally find the time.

LiveSurface:

A fantastic app for prototyping your design work onto real world objects like billboards, book covers, and coffee cups. This seems like just as great of a tool for people learning design as it does for experts.

50 problems in 50 days:

One man’s attempt to solve 50 problems in 50 days using only great design. Some good startup ideas in here…

How to Do Philosophy:

If you’ve ever suspected that most classical philosophy is a colossal waste of time, Paul Graham tells you why you’re probably right.

TIME: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us:

Stephen Brill follows the money to uncover the pinnacle of corruption that is the U.S. Health Care system. A must-read article if there ever was one.

DIY Dot Org:

A beautifully designed site full of fun and challenging DIY projects. I could spend months on here.

The Steve Jobs Video Archive:

A collection of over 250 Steve Jobs videos in biographical order

Self-portraits from an artist under the influence of 48 different psychoactive drug combos.

Water Wigs are pretty amazing.

David Pogue proposes to his girlfriend by creating a fake movie trailer about them and then getting a theater to play it before a real movie. Beautiful and totally awesome.

Jonah Peretti's letter to BuzzFeed’s employees:

If you’re wondering what a excellent blueprint for a modern media company looks like, look no further than Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti’s latest email to his employees. In it, Peretti explains a lot of his company’s virtues, the most important being a relentless focus on always providing what’s best for the user. Vox Media (operators of The Verge) is the only other company I can think of which approaches this level of reform and execution.

The Covers Project:

I love this so much: a cross-referenceable database of cover songs, searchable by song or artist. Slowed down, acoustic covers — no matter the song — are so enjoyable to me that I wish it was a requirement to play one at every show. If you like them as much as I do, make sure to check out M. Ward’s Let’s Dance or Sun Kil Moon’s entire album of Modest Mouse covers.