A random Weblog

Why I returned my iPhone 5
October 1, 2012, 11:12 am
Filed under: Technology | Tags: , , , , , , ,


I’m a self-confessed Apple fan and have owned iPhone 1, 2, 3, 4, 4S and briefly – iPhone 5.

I wanted to write about why I have returned it.  It has a great form-factor, feels perfect in the hand, and things open and run noticeably faster than it’s predecessor – but the main reason for my disappointment comes down to two words. Google Maps.  Granted this is an iOS6 issue not an iPhone 5 issue per-se, but it’s the branch that snapped for me. Big time.

I should have done a re-boxing video as a parody of all the unboxing nonsense on YouTube, but it’s not that funny.  A couple other factors in my decision to return my iPhone 5 though;

1. It took nearly six hours to set up the iPhone 5. I had (foolishly?) backed up to iCloud and it took forever to restore onto the new phone – most likely because the Apple server farms were being hammered. Even when that was done, there was a need to connect to iTunes to restore media and apps – so really no point in an iCloud backup IMO.  Even connected to iTunes, re-loading 80 or so apps took forever – it was a truly hopeless experience and not at all Apple-like.

2. I fully charged the phone and ensuring no apps were running, I left it on overnight.  Less than eight hours later, battery was down to 32%.  WTF?  I did not have any undue location services running, there was no bluetooth connectivity, mail was set to push as per my old iPhone so I did not expect this – my iPhone 4s looses a maximum of 10% battery overnight. 68% is unacceptable.

I wasn’t prepared to venture to work with a phone that can’t even hold a charge when it’s doing SFA, so I clicked the return button and it’s on the way back to Apple.  Fortunately I had not erased my iPhone 4S, so with a new SIM it’s back in action. End of story.  Or is it?  Right now I’m researching how I might keep my Apple Contacts Book in Sync with Google Contacts, because yes, an Android phone beckons – that’s how much I want my Google maps back.

This article from The Monday Note reports that the maps fiasco has so far sliced $30 billion off the value of Apple. I say so far, because there is NO WAY that Apple can recover from this mess until Google maps is restored on iOS6.  If they don’t do this, 2012 will be the year of the tipping point, and history will write it as moment that Apple Jumped the Shark.

Why am I so certain this isn’t just a speed bump for Apple?  Because maps matter more than Apple understands and Google maps are the best.  What many people don’t know (Apple included by the looks) is that Street-View data is some of the secret-sauce behind Google Maps.  Their clever algorithms read the street signage and interpret meaning from all those road signs along the way.  So when you request directions, a layer of data is coming from signage along the possible routes. Without their own Street view data, Apple is hopelessly lost.  This article is on how Google builds it’s maps is fascinating, seriously Apple – you had the arrogance to think a half-baked product could take this kind of mature product on? The consumer is not stupid, yours is the fail of the decade and you’re going to have to pull a giant rabbit out of somewhere – or this will become the business case study of all time – for all the wrong reasons.

And back to iOS6, well I’ve resisted upgrading my iPad because of the map “thing”, but now as various apps auto-update I’m told they won’t install as they require the latest version of the OS. That would be iOS 6. No thanks.

Friends at work are rather fond of their Galaxy Note tablets, and the latest video’s from Samsung show some remarkable thinking is going on in Korea, thinking that is seeing the tablet evolve to become an even more productive device.  I’m sure Apple are hardly sitting around on their hands and will continue to improve with iOS7 and beyond, but Mr Cook sure has his work cut out for him.


Fujifilm XPro1 – did they release a Beta?
July 28, 2012, 3:32 pm
Filed under: Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Fujifilm XPro 1 is an impressive camera, but it’s also a very frustrating camera. It seems to have a split personality.

There are plenty of sites with detailed specs on the camera, so I’ll skip the hardware and get straight to my impressions.  Let me start by saying I’m a former owner of the XPro1 – former because this camera just isn’t for me.  Previously I owned the X100 too – so some of my comments will reference that camera as well.

Here are some of the good points for the XPro1

  1. Seems to be well constructed, solid/quality feel to the camera
  2. Remarkable hybrid viewfinder – a credit to their engineers and designers
  3. Simple Aperture and Shutter speed controls via “traditional” lens ring and rotating knob respectively (and with simple “A” feature for Auto)
  4. A menu system that is so improved over the X100 that it would be good if they could port it back to the X100 via a firmware update
  5. Clever Q-Menu (Quick menu) for rapid access to key settings – this is great
  6. Clean files, the innovative sensor design works beautifully.  Image quality is superb from this well sized sensor (and being a bigger sensor than many small cameras. the signal to noise ratio is better – so you can shoot at higher ISO’s and still get clean files)
  7. Although I don’t tend to use Auto White Balance on any camera very much, my impression was that AWB on the XPro1 comfortably out-performs AWB on my pro Nikon gear, that’s impressive
  8. I had the 35 lens during my spell of ownership with this camera, and it proved a good choice. Nice fast glass, good weight/size.
  9. Much improved battery charger over the X100 (which had a ridiculous piece of plastic to insert to lock the battery in place. Something I lost in a few days)
  10. It’s a good looking camera, no argument it looks the part

And the bad points.

  1. Focus is frustratingly slow, and it’s hit and miss sometimes. In fact it’s unacceptable. More on this shortly.
  2. Forget the Fujifilm software, it’s pretty ordinary – and it’s Windows only (Fortunately Lightroom can open the XPro1’s RAW files)
  3. Manual focus is electronic “by wire” – it’s not all bad, but it’s not pure manual
  4. It’s awkward to get the memory card in and out

I’ve taken hundreds of thousands over photos over the years, and one of my all time faves was taken with the X100, so I have a soft-spot for Fujifilm – and I really like that they’ve taken bigger risks than Canon and Nikon in this space (and been rewarded for it). I guess I wanted the XPro1 to pick up on all that’s good about the X100 and build on some of it’s shortcomings (a camera which is also slow to focus, although firmware updates helped somewhat).  At this price point I wanted snappier focus response from the XPro1, and yes I know Contrast based AF will always be less speedy than Phase Detection AF as found in my DSLR’s, so it will never be as fast – but I can’t be bothered with it while it ambles along like this.

The camera will likely reward users who don’t chase sports or action shots, and if you slow down and think deliberately about your photography there’s no doubt it can deliver wonderful images.  But if you’re like me, and you want your gear to be an extension of your instincts and thinking, then the XPro1 will deliver a lot of out of focus images. For this reason, it felt like it was a camera in Beta to me.  Maybe there will be improvements to focus speed and accuracy down the track, as others like Olympus and Nikon have shown that responsive focus response is possible with non-DSLR bodies.  If you’re looking for a small high-quality camera, the X100 may suit you better – it’s smaller, lighter, and very capable if you take the same deliberate approach with it.

Some reviewers have argued that focus issues are “not that bad”, or “not as bad as some are saying” but sheesh this is not a cheap camera.  At this price point it needs to deliver a much better experience.  The printed brochure has a heading that says, “Without compromise” and this is simply PR spin (otherwise known as “marketing puffery”, which is legit and prevents a legal claim as thought it were a statement of fact)

I know you can learn to work with the camera’s quirks, in fact many users are raving about the XPro1 – but I’m not one of them.  If the above makes you hesitate, then take my advice and don’t buy this camera (yet). On the other hand, if you don’t always shoot wide open, and you are prepared to slow down and work systematically with the camera, then I think you’ll grow to like it.

Fuji, you did something remarkable with the X100, and now the XPro1.  All credit to you, but please please get auto-focus competitive either via firmware upgrades, or an XPro2 down the track.

(Oh, and one more thing.  When you’re researching cameras like this one and others, be sure to look for posts from people who have taken plenty of photos on the camera or lens before they review it.  There are plenty of sites that re-hash the corporate press release – this isn’t a review, it’s a free kick.  Equally, beware the pixel-peeping type who drill deeply into dark areas of a photo looking for noise. My comments are based entirely on everyday usage by an experienced photographer)

UPDATE 1:  Here’s are two additional articles that give insight to this camera

1. The Phoblographer review one

2. The Phoblographer review two

UPDATE 2: September 7th 2012.  Fujifilm have announced the next update to their firmware – with the first two items mentioned in their press release improvements to deliver improvements to the auto-focus. So maybe the camera is moving out of Beta 🙂  But seriously, why don’t they get this right first time – while firmware updates are normal enough for any camera, launching with sub-par focus is not…

From Fujifilm’s notes;

Improvements made after firmware update:

1.Improved performance of auto focus*1
Focussing in challenging lighting conditions, where light is low or bright, will now be much faster in Auto Focus mode. The focusing distance has also been improved, allowing you to get closer to the subject and capture a great shot without switching to macro mode.

2.Manual Focus improved performance
Improved operability
The speed of the image coming into focus when turning the focus ring has been vastly improved. When adjusting the focus ring using the electronic viewfinder or the LCD panel on the back of the camera it is now much easier to focus, always displaying the image closer to full aperture with minimum depth of field.

Update 3 – January 7th 2013 – Fuji have just announced the X100s, with a few features to improve auto-focus and they now claim they have the fastest autofocus.  Will have to take them at their word, suffice to say it sounds like the S version of the X100 addresses the weak focusing capabilities of the original model. A good move by Fuji.

Update 4 – May 2nd 2013 – I had  a play with the X100s the other day.  In the hand it felt instantly familiar, and the focus speed seemed much improved.  While I didn’t get to see the image son a computer there’s no reason to think they’re anything less than the wonderful quality of the original X100, so I’m very pleased to see a good camera has now been updated to become an excellent camera – not just the focus improvements but some other tweaks as well..  X100s owners will be marked by their big smiles.  I wonder if the XPro1 will see any of these improvements head to their model?


Having trouble logging onto B&W’s “Society of Sound”?
January 2, 2012, 7:47 am
Filed under: Music | Tags: , , , , , , ,

B&W speakers have a great download service called “Society of Sound.” For a modest subscription fee you can download high quality audio files from some great artists.

But there’s a potential bug for some users. The download manager uses Adobe Air, and on some combinations of computer/browswer/OS, it can refuse to load properly. After a bit of online searching, I found the strangest of fixes – but it works. Just download the Firefox web browser (if not already installed) and then have Firefox open and running before you attempt to open the B&W Download Manager. For some dumb-ass reason, this will allow Adobe Air to run properly. I don’t know why either.

Someone posted this as a fix for an Abode Air hang-up (thank you!) as it worked for them and it worked for me too, so if you’re having a similar problem, it’s worth a try (a quick Google search shows a lot of user issues with Adobe Air, so I suspect this solution may help more than those stuck with the B&W download manager)

Tweeter fingers (or “think carefully before committing to B&W”)
December 24, 2011, 11:32 am
Filed under: Media, Music | Tags: , , , , ,

B&W’s Diamond tweeter range of speakers are amazing, likewise the new PM1 – pictured above (which was really, really impressive when I auditioned it). I was heading down the B&W way for an overdue speaker upgrade, and was really pleased with what I had learnt and heard about this brand – and the in-store audition was fantastic. But then a final question about the nautilus style tweeter on the top – “I understand the grill cap on the tweeter is held on by small magnets, so it’s readily removed – but can you fix it in place if you wish?”

The salesman rolled his eyes. Long story short, no you can’t, and he confirmed the tweeter is a “kid magnet” with the ones in-store frequently being grabbed by children coming in with their parents. They are readily damaged and as a result, after a recent product refresh, the store contacted B&W to order replacement tweeters to repair their demo stock – but there was a three month delay as stores all over the world were doing the same.

Sadly, this is a knock-out for me. Your circumstances may vary of course, but its something to consider for sure. A shame the grill can’t somehow be locked on as an option, as these speakers are great value, the technology is impressive, and they sound absolutely beautiful.

Weary Gehry
December 18, 2010, 10:35 am
Filed under: Architecture, Media, Technology | Tags: , ,

I felt for Frank Gehry yesterday.  Here was an 84 year old architectural genius battling through an interview in front of 600 people, despite being clearly exhausted. He was generous with his time, but clearly after a busy week in Sydney to launch the design of a stunning new “tree house” building for UTS, he was ready for a quiet lie-down.  And who can blame him? Running a business of 150 staff working on projects in multiple countries and time zones would be hard work for anyone – let alone when you’re 84.

But, weariness aside, under the questions from Geraldine Doogue, Gehry offered some amazing insights into his life, and his pursuit of perfect design.  It was interesting to listen to the points he made in respect to creativity – to consider how these observations could apply to other arts such as photography, music, and so on.

Some observations from his comments:

  • Creative projects work. The Bilbao building paid for itself in eight months.
  • Simple things require more precision than the complex
  • There is beauty and energy in collisions of spaces and design
  • Always be yourself – and then you will be the expert in your work.  Your signature is your own, no one else does it like that – so do that in your work and don’t think about it.
  • Every new project is a challenge.
  • The constraint of the budget is a welcome challenge
  • Be childlike, playful, and free of constraints as you design
  • Encourage push-back from the client, it helps him find the edge
  • Too many colleagues don’t challenge the clients early optimism on costs. You need to do that at the outset
  • Get out of the project if the client is not engaged.

A word that Gehry used repeatedly was “engage.”  The work has to engage the client, it has to engage the users, it has to engage the community. It has to engage him as the architect.  He kept coming back to this word – and it surely applies in all creative pursuits.

When asked what he wants his legacy to be, he responded, “Well since I’m not going to be here, I don’t care.”  I think he meant it – he simply designs and creates without worrying what the naysayers and critics care to focus on.  That to me, is a sure sign of a great mind at work.

A model of architect Frank Gehry's Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, dubbed The Treehouse. (Gehry Partners)

One of these is, not like the other one
April 27, 2010, 8:33 pm
Filed under: Media, Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

Amazing really.  What else to say about this MASSIVE fall in hard drive price over time?

Lemme see now, 3+ grand for 10 MB back then, or $95 today for 1TB from Officeworks. Gob-smacking, that’s what it is. (Some of our email attachments exceed 10MB today!)

Miniwatt N3 tube amp review
March 27, 2010, 4:51 pm
Filed under: Music, Technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Somehow in my web travels I came across an enthusiastic review for the Miniwatt S1 amplifier.  Which led me to another, and then another.  I wasn’t really looking for an amplifier, yet this diminutive beast seemed to be drawing “OMG” type comments from some seriously nerdy Hi-fi types.  Something was up. While none of the reviews were saying it was the best thing since sliced bread, they were all noting the S1’s surprisingly high quality – surprising because it costs a mere US $229.  These expert reviewers seemed gob-smacked, so now I was really interested.

The Miniwatt sounded like a sweet way to power some desktop speakers for the office – after all, I thought, a tube amp would add some warmth to the slightly cool feel of digital audio, so that might even things out nicely.

In swapping emails with the good people at Miniwatt in Hong Kong, I learned of the N3, a slightly bigger and better spec’d model which, at the time, was about to be launched.

Cut to two weeks later and the N3 is on my desk.  Sporting three tubes instead of the S1’s four, up from 2 watts per channel to 3.5, and with options for 4, 6 or 8-ohm speakers (the S1 is confined to 8 ohm), this single input amp is quite something.

The S1 is billed as, “the worlds smallest 4-tube integrated amp”, and looking at the slightly larger N3, it might be that this is “the world’s smallest 3-tube integrated amp”?  Honestly this thing is small.

While waiting for the amp to arrive I got some Kimber 8TC speaker cable

for my AudioEngine P4 speakers…

…and a DevilSound USB DAC – figuring my computer soundcard wasn’t going to do justice to the rest of the set-up.

My N3 was shipped from Hong Kong to Australia via UPS in two days. It was well packed in high-density foam and was quickly unboxed.  There is no manual, but frankly adding a manual would be as redundant as when the airline shows you how to fasten your seat belt.

I connected the DAC to a USB port on my computer, added the speakers and then plugged the N3 in to the mains (you need to supply your own power cord, and like the S1, the N3 can handle universal voltage).  I switched on, waited a short while to let it warm up and then played a familiar CD to see what I thought.

Well the first song was less than a minute in when two colleagues came into my office to see what was going on.  I had hardly turned the volume up so it was not very loud at all, but they could tell something was up. “Are these new speakers?” (Yes), “Is that little thing the amp?” (Yes), “How come it sounds so good?” (Don’t know), “Where did you get it?” (Online), “How much was the amp?” ($378), “Wow!”

I let the disc play on, and gradually raised the volume some more. Oh yes, this was sounding good.  Very good…  I remembered reading some old marketing material from LINN, and their advice was to ignore the spec.  Simply, if it sounds better to you, then it is better. Wise words that came back to me as the CD played on.

The MiniWatt runs quite warm, but this is considered normal so I wasn’t alarmed, I did feel a little sad as I turned it off later in the day though.

The next day I did some more critical listening.  I am no audiophile so don’t worry I’m not going to rave on with some specialist vocabulary, and besides there are several elements at play here – from the source to the speakers – and a proper evaluation would swap out the MiniWatt  amp for “something else” if I were to try and isolate it’s contribution.  But here’s my point – the whole set up sounds fantastic.  3.5 watts is plenty loud enough for the office, and all up I’ve likely spent the same or a bit less than some of the “main street” audio gear that just isn’t going to come close to this for listening pleasure.

I’ve been amazed at the clarity of the music, there’s no obvious noise (no doubt some, but not hearing it in my office environment), and there seems to be a wide dynamic range – the little speakers are obviously going to be modest when it comes to bass, but even here I was not disappointed – everything just seems, well, balanced I guess.

I have been wondering about a cost effective power cable, something up from the spare computer one I am using now, but I am wary of these – are they snake oil, or do they help? (Comments welcome!)

The Miniwatt is the star player for me in all this though; it was cheaper than the speaker cables but fractionally more than the speakers and DAC.  Those with more knowledge may criticize my seemingly random choice of components, but the whole lot plays nicely together, it sounds awesome to me.  I thank Miniwatt for putting so much quality into a small, low-cost, no BS package.  Talk about putting a capital “V” on Value. That’s heroic.

You can buy your MiniWatt N3 (or limited stocks of the S1) from MiniWatt in Hong Kong, or in the US from ALO Audio

The DevilSound DAC (which I hardly touched on, but clearly adds to the sound chain in a positive way) is detailed here

A review of the AudioEngine P4 speakers is here and you can learn more about Kimber cable here

I will add to this review as I become more familiar with the set-up.

Specifications of the Miniwatt N3
Tubes: TungSol 12AX7 + 2 x Sovtek Matched Pair EL84
Input: RCA
Input Impedance: 50Kohm
Output: Banana Jacks
Output Impedance: 8/6/4 ohms (Japan Z11-EI48*24 Output Transformers)
Output Power: 3.5W + 3.5W
Frequency Response: 30-25Khz (+-1db)
Residual Noise < 0.8mVac
AC Input: 100-250Vac
AC Socket: Standard IEC Jack with Fuse protection (2A Fuse)
Dimensions: 130 (W) x 130mm (D) x 130mm (H)

The original S1 and newer N3 side by side


Update – May 2nd 2013.  This post has consistently been the “most read” on my site.  Clearly the Miniwatt intrigues a wide audience. Well some three years later I can report that this little system continues to prove highly enjoyable. I have not changed a thing, and use it nearly every day.  In therms of bang for the buck, it was always good, but I think this underlines that it’s been a no-regrets purchase for me.