January 2008 Archives

Amazon Buys Audible

If you haven't heard already, the online retailer Amazon has purchased at a price of $11.50 per share, roughly equating to a $300 million dollar purchase price for Audible's assets, including 80,000 audio programs. Their reason for purchase, obviously enough is their investment on the Kindle e-book reader. On the market these days are three devices people primarily use for audio books: car CD players, iPods and computers. Amazon aims to make the Kindle the iPod for books, so this acquisition was a necessary one for Amazon.

Audible is one of the providers of exclusive audio content to Apple's iTunes store, as well as a provider to Amazon. In the battle for provider of downloadable content, Apple and Amazon are at odds with one another. While it would be a stupid decision for Amazon to discontinue Audible's partnership with Apple, it is a possible for Amazon to do so if they find it advantageous. All of which all begs the question: why didn't Apple buyout Audible? Audible's revenue stream coming from sales through Apple's iTunes store is around 25-30%, and with over a billion in cash reserves at Apple, $300 million seems to be a small price to pay for continued access to Audible content. The problem is not their content, but rather their profitability; Audible has lost money since its inception, a trend that is slowly turning around (their earnings per share last year was a mere negative 4 cents, and their estimated earnings per share for the current quarter is a whopping 2 cents).

Jobs has gone on record to say that people don't read anymore. Part of this statement might come from the news bit about the average American reading one book per year, but I think as audiobooks are a portion of the content being sold on iTunes, Jobs has some numbers on the the amount being sold by Apple of audio books, and my guess is those numbers are very small in comparison to the 4 billion songs sold on iTunes.

Part of the problem likely stems from the fact that online audiobooks are priced with variation much more than any other downloadable content on both Amazon or iTunes; a movie can be downloaded for 9.99, a song can be downloaded for 99 cents, and an audiobook can cost anywhere from 95 cents to 49.99. At those prices, most would likely rather purchase the paper and binding version of the book. Amazon's prices for downloadable audiobooks aren't much different from Apple's, most download books averaged within a few dollars of Apple's prices. The variance in price, as well as the somewhat limited selection (example: Harry Potter 6 can be found as an audio download on iTunes, but not on Amazon, and costs $49.99, while Harry Potter 7, the best-selling book of last year is not available at all).

If Amazon wants the Kindle to succeed, the content from Audible is a necessary to their future success; to Apple, audiobooks are nice to have, but not as necessary as the music is what dominates their iTunes store, and with prices as they are presently, it is unlikely that downloads of books in either e-book or audio form will ever overtake sales of physical books anytime soon.

MacBook Air Benchmarking against Intel Macs

I was looking over the benchmarks for the MacBook Air on Macworld when I suddenly realized something about these benchmarks; for the most part, the benchmarks were against the somewhat more current models of Mac. While this is a useful thing to benchmark with, considering the other currently available options, and it makes sense to gauge the MacBook Air against the current MacBook, but I find that comparison rather pointless; we know already the MacBook Air is going to be slower than any other Mac currently on the market. But what if you're in a situation where one has an older computer and wants to know how much faster the Air is compared to their old computer? The results are rather surprising (and in the extended); in short, the MacBook Air is slower than a majority of the Intel Macs ever released, but faster than most single processor PowerPC Macs. Many of the tasks on their benchmark are very CPU intensive and are a good marker for processing performance, making the Air more powerful if the Mac you own is over two years old, and only has a single processor.

links for 2008-02-01


links for 2008-01-31


links for 2008-01-30


Flip and Tumble Bags

If you're anything like me, whenever you go grocery shopping, you end up leaving the store with several of the flimsy plastic bags. Many of the more eco-minded places have started encouraging people to bring in their own bags, and even sell re-usable bags at the store (most with a huge logo on it). Even after I buy one of these bags, I only get to use it a handful of times before I start forgetting to return it to the car, and while I don't mind advertising where I shop, there's something that feels vaguely wrong about shopping at Trader Joe's or the local Farmer's Market with a re-usable green grocery bag from Whole Foods.

Earlier this month, I purchased two Flip and Tumble bags, which are nylon bags that are easily tucked into a ball shape. This makes them a cinch to throw into a purse or a bag. The material is extremely durable, and can carry up to 20 pounds worth of stuff.

links for 2008-01-29


Recreating Omaha Beach on a Shoestring Budget


Canon's New Rebel XSi and New Lenses

Canon has made the following pre-PMA announcements for their digital SLR line: The two L lenses are geared towards pros and priced to match; while I find myself drooling over the EF 200 f/2L IS for its large aperture, I'm sure that sports and wildlife photographers must be ecstatic about the 800mm IS, which is a mere fraction of the cost of the now discontinued Canon EF 1200mm f/5.6L lens which was $89,000 and custom made to order. With the 800mm now available at such a price, is it any wonder why one of the few Canon EF 1200mm f/5.6L lenses became available on BH photo for $99,000 shortly after the announcement of 800mm last October? The inclusion of IS on the 800mm seems like a marketing gimmick to me -- I find the idea of attempting to handhold a heavy 800mm telephoto to be rather unrealistic, though I suppose at 800mm, the clap of the shutter could introduce vibration into the camera, even if mounted on a tripod.

The final lens mentioned, the EF-S 55-250 IS fills a product niche that's been sorely missing in the EF-S line of lenses -- from the begining, EF-S lenses concentrated on the wide-angle and normal zoom ranges, but when faced with telephoto ranges, were forced to purchase EF lenses. Because the sensors on EF-S mounted cameras are smaller, EF-S cameras don't really need as much glass as EF lenses provide; so this new telephoto zoom for EF-S does two things: it continues the range left by the 18-55 kit lens, and it gives EF-S a cheaper telephoto lens option. I can see lots of amateur photographers buying this lens and the EF-S 10-22 wide angle and basically completing their kit.

links for 2008-01-25


links for 2008-01-23


To the Moon!

Four years ago, President Bush decided to give NASA a billion dollars in funding over the next five years to get the United States to return to the Moon by 2020. The first step in all of this is to create a rocket to take the astronauts there, so it's up to a new generation of engineers to create these machines to send people to the Moon. Their new rockets are called Ares, and they've got just one little flaw: the rocket could shake violently during the first few minutes of flight, possibly destroying the entire vehicle.

I find it interesting that 30 years ago, we were able to build rockets with 60s/70s era parts that were durable enough to withstand launch, yet with modern technology, blasting-off may as well be blasting apart.

New Canon cameras to be announced before PMA

With the PMA (Photo Marketing Association) trade show taking place next week, the interwebs seems to be talking quite a bit about the possibility of Canon updating their product line, replacing the older models over 18 months with newer, better, shinier ones. Rather than announcing the new cameras at the show, they tend to release the news to the press the week before, which means that this week is very likely when we'll be hearing about the new cameras hitting the PMA.

Nikon's entry into the high-end full-frame professional market was in August 2007, with their 12 megapixel Nikon D3. Although some believe that this is the first opportunity Canon has had to respond to the competition, I feel as though it is Nikon who is acting in response to Canon's products; Canon brought full-frame digital to the professional market first, with the Canon 1Ds series, and then later to the prosumer level with the Canon EOS 5D. Announced in August of 2005, the 5D came onto the market in October of 2005, filling the gap between Canon's professional 1D line and their EOS prosumer line of cameras. With the 5D in production for over two years now, people have been guessing since last February about the possibility of a Canon 5D replacement. Indeed, I had thought such a release likely too, as I had bought a Canon 5D in July of 2006, thinking that a new model would be out by the time Comic-Con rolled around again, and was surprised when it didn't happen.

What's due for an update on Canon's DSLR line?

  • The Canon 5D prosumer line. It just needs a refresher to add in all the new features found in Canon's consumer models; 3.0" inch screen, Live View, dust removal. Whether they call this update the 7D, 3D or 5D Mark II remains to be seen, but this product is due. I expect the price of the sucessor to remain close to $2000. In anticipation of this announcement, eBay, craigslist and the like have had many second-hand 5Ds listed for sale as those who want the lastest and greatest sell the old to buy the new.
  • A new Digital Rebel. Every 18 months, a new consumer-grade DSLR model is unveiled with more new features and improvements over the last. The last one, the XTi (400D) was announced in August of 2006 -- February 2008 will be the 18th month, so the 450D is a no-brainer.
Everything else that Canon has is too new for an update; the 40D, the 1Ds Mark III and the 1D Mark III were all announced last year.

The evidence?

links for 2008-01-22


links for 2008-01-18


Axion Modbook

At Macworld, I looked at the Axion Modbook, a Macbook that incorporates a Wacom tablet into the screen, essentially making the Modbook a tablet Mac. While last year, the unveiling of the Modbook was a much publicized event, having actual demo models on the show floor was far more effective, allowing attendees a chance to actually use the product.

While I have serious reservations about their choice of using a Macbook as the donor system rather than the more powerful MacBook Pro, the Modbook's greatest benefit, as well as its greatest weakness is that which makes it a Modbook -- the tablet functionality of the screen. It feels very natural to use the stylus to do the functions you're used to with a mouse, and many of the things that are hard to do with a mouse, are suddenly very easy with a stylus (such as tracing a mask shape in Photoshop). The reverse, however is also true -- the lack of a keyboard is really what makes the Modbook a less than completely usable product.

Take for instance, something like Photoshop -- a pen is great for drawing and editing, but then what if instead of using the sliders, you actually want to input some numbers? The Modbook has a software keyboard (in the form of a dialog box-sized mini-app) that you tap with the stylus. This is actually more tedious to do than I'm making it sound, but I suppose there's always an option of using one of the USB ports to plug one in. I'm not saying that touch would be a better solution, but without a keyboard, the Modbook just doesn't feel as generally usable as the MacBook. The Modbook is definitely going for a certain niche audience, though which niche exactly, I can't really say.

Live from Macworld SF 2008

Macworld SF 2008 started off as a big fiasco at registration. Traditionally, Macworld attendees receive their badges in the mail, and when they get to Macworld, they show them the badge, and receive a badgeholder. Normally, I show up half an hour before the conference starts, stand in a line for about 30 seconds, and I'm good to go. This was not how things happened this year. Regsitration, unlike years past, was moved into Moscone West's first floor. My sister and I drove by it upon arriving in San Francisco, and we thought it was just the keynote getting out. It was not -- the horde of people at Moscone West were people who had pre-registered who were waiting on their badges.

If you recall, in July, I blogged about the 3 hour line for pre-registrants to Anime Expo -- this was the same thing, except much less organized. In the end, (about 45 minutes after the exhibit halls opened) Macworld organizers decided to simply use the barcodes as the badge in an attempt to clear people out of the registration area.

The Macworld expo is stupid crowded this year - more people than ever before. It's starting to feel like comic-con, with just enough space to squeeze by.

Apple announced a smörgåsbord of new products this January, but the show stealer was definitely the MacBook Air. The 13 inch Macbook Air had more people surrounding it than any other product at MacWorld this year, and by my estimation, there were more people ogling it than were fascinated by the iPhone last year. I predict that despite the expense of the MacBook Air, that this is going to be one of Apple's best-selling laptops of the new year. The MacBook Air is extremely thin and extremely beautiful. The display is beautiful, and while I don't really like the MacBook style keyboard, the multitouch gesture based trackpad is really awesome. For all the treehuggers out there, it's also very environmentally friendly too -- the aluminum case is recyclable, the circuit boards are produced without BFR and PVC, the packaging is smaller, and the new screens use a glass that is both arsenic-free and mercury-free.

The MacBook Air comes in two varieties: MacBook Air 1.8 Ghz and MacBook Air 1.6 Ghz, with a 80 GB hard drive, 2 GB of RAM, a USB 2.0 port along with Micro-DVI, built-in 802.11n and Bluetooth + EDR. The MacBook Air doesn't come with a optical drive or a user-serviceable battery.


The other announcements today aren't all that exciting to me, but I really like the idea of a super-light notebook. My first notebooks out of college were sub-notebooks, and enjoyed them greatly because of the portability. While these days I use a 6-year-old 6 pound PowerBook to use as my work machine on the go, it sure would be nice to have a lighter load.

Flickr: Macworld SF 2008


Just What Kind of Audience is the MacBook Air Aiming For?

Apple announced the MacBook Air today, an ultrathin, ultraportable, ultralight made-to-be wireless laptop computer.

The Apple Store has a nice little chart comparing the different laptop options, detailing the differences and similarities between the model.

One of the differences between the MacBook Air and the regular MacBook is the difference in thickness, but the overall footprint of the device is the same. The MacBook Air also weighs a great deal less than the other laptops in the MacBook family, 2 pounds less than the MacBook, and 2.4 pounds less than the MacBook Pro. A substantial amount of that weight savings lies in the removal of the optical drive from the MacBook Air, along with a whole bunch of ports (Ethernet, FireWire 400, line-in, and only one USB 2.0 port instead of two) that are standard on the MacBook. An external optical drive is available for the MacBook Air, but with third-party external DVD drives being rather cheap, my guess is that only those that absolutely must have Apple branded products will purchase the $99 SuperDrive. Apple has designed the MacBook Air to be able to share the optical drive from other computers, making the external rather extraneous if they have access to another computer with an optical drive.

The MacBook Air uses the same Intel GMA X3100 graphics processor as the MacBook, so the weakness of this chip is that it uses part of the system memory for graphics memory. The graphics memory is more likely to be accessed by programs that use 3D graphics, intensive graphics programs like Maya, or even complex 3D games will cause this graphics chip to lag.

Processor-wise, the MacBook Air is the slowest of the Mac laptops with its 1.6 GHz ($1799) or 1.8 GHz ($2099) GHz Core 2 Duo processor. The MacBook is available in 2.0 GHz ($1099) and 2.2 GHz ($1299) configurations, while the MacBook Pro includes processors that are a step up from the MacBook, running at 2.2 GHz ($1999) and 2.4 GHz ($2499). While all models except the MacBook come with 2GB of RAM, an upgrade for the MacBook is available for an additional $150, making a similarly equipped MacBook priced at $1249.

for $1249, you can purchase a MacBook with a 2.0 GHz processor, 2 GB of RAM, 80 GB Hard Drive, SuperDrive and all ports included, or for $1799, you can purchase a MacBook Air with 1.6 GHz processor, 2GB of RAM, 80 GB harddrive and no optical drive.The difference? The additional $550 which covers the two-pound weight loss of the MacBook Air. Of course, going the other direction, for just $200 more than the MacBook Air, you could get a very nice 15" MacBook Pro. In all of my cost analysis for this product, I can't figure out where the $550 premium is justified -- the weight savings? The higher cost of aluminum for the MacBook Air case instead of the plastic for the MacBook? The cost of research and development of the product? The cost of manufacturing a smaller form factor? I think part of it also is that in an effort to stratify their laptop lines; while I believe they parked the price too close to that of the MacBook Pro, the $550 premium definitely puts it far above the economic reach of those who should be buying a MacBook and below the logical usability of those who rely on MacBook Pros.

Professionals, artists, designers, engineers and other people who rely on Macs to get their work done are still going to buy MacBook Pros. No other laptop is going to offer the specs that meet their requirements. While I hoped for a 13 inch model that has all the power of the 15 inch ones, the MacBook Air has pretty much torpedoed that hope, as they would have done it by now if it were possible.

Students, who are going to have only one computer to take to school, are still going to buy MacBooks because they're relatively cheap and for the type of work they need to do on it, a MacBook is going to get them through school. An exception is going to have to be made for students who might need more computing power, but most students are going to get by with a MacBook.

Who do we have left? We have people who have multiple computers who can do without an optical drive, and people who use their computers on wireless networks primarily. We also have people who can afford to pay the $550 premium for the weight savings. For a traveling computer I wouldn't mind having this around, just for the size and the weight, but it would not take the place of a primary computer.

Video: Can't Beat Air Man

In the classic NES gaming era, there was an old Capcom game called Mega Man 2. While the original Mega Man was something of a sleeper hit, Mega Man 2 was one of the genre-defining side scrollers on par with games like the original Super Mario Bros. In Mega Man 2, you play the title robot, and defeat evil robots created by Dr. Wily, collecting their special powers to augment your own. The game is rather free-form in letting you choose which of the evil robot's stages to tackle first.

An intrepid gamer has made his own anime style video highlighting the frustrations of trying to beat the boss "Air Man".

Here's the actual Air Man Stage:

And here's the disappearing blocks the singer is talking about on the Heat Man Stage:

links for 2008-01-15


Maverick's Surf Contest has been Greenlit

There's a couple of photography moments I try not to miss every year; one of them is the Mavericks Surf Contest. Mavericks is a contest that happens once a year, and because the sport depends on the weather conditions, it is held at a moment's notice; within 24 hours world class surfers from around the world arrive in Half Moon Bay to ride the waves. Last year, the conditions never got good enough for the contest to be held, but with the rains we've been having in the Bay Area, I knew it was going to be held soon. The Mavericks Surf contest happens tomorrow, starting at 8am. This year's waves look to be awesome. It's too bad I won't be here to attend, but Mavericks is webcasting it on MySpace and having a party at AT&T park. Since the surfing takes place about half a mile from the shore, without high powered optics or a spot on a boat, you probably won't be able to see much.

links for 2008-01-12


Building the iPhone

Wired has a four page spread on the creation of the iPhone. Very little of the information within the article comes from a primary documented source and because the project was kept so secret, the accuracy of the article is in question, but it still does make for a fascinating read.

One thing it does get right, is that carriers now realize attractive phones with good features can swing customers from one network to another, and that the iPhone has changed the cellular industry (just think, I NEVER have to step foot in a cellphone store again and spend an hour to sign up for a new phone).

The New MMOGs: Where Are They Now?

In December of 2006, I wrote about two of the new challengers in MMOGs: Red 5 Studios and Green Monster Games(renamed 38 Studios). Neither of these studios has yet released any product as a good MMOG takes about 5 years to construct.

With CES this week in Las Vegas, Schilling has been talking up a storm about 38 Studios and the MMOG project "Copernicus". Working now with Todd MacFarlane and R.A. Salvatore (an announcement made prior to Comic Con last year, which I apparently missed), 38 Studios is definitely going for some major geek cred with these two names. However, a look at past computer gaming projects with these two names reveals some gaming disappointments. R.A. Salvatore , is well known for the Forgotten Realms AD&D setting, has put his mark on some of videogame adaptations in that world. Todd McFarlane, the creator of Spawn, was associated with the canceled Ultima Online 2 project. It doesn't mean that these two can't finally produce a good product, but past experience has shown that when you bank on big names to sell your game, those games tend to suck. While at this point I have little faith in 38 Studios, I'll wait and see what they produce.

Red 5 Studios is still alive and kicking, partnering with WebZen for a MMOG. You can ascertain quite a bit about the status of an organization by looking at their job listings, and it seems that Red 5 is in desperate need of some fresh blood, as nearly every position available is a requirement for making a MMOG.

Both of these studios are well funded, but I believe that despite this, Red 5 will be the first out with product, and I don't expect that product to be successful in the United States.

On my deathwatch list of MMOG companies is Perpetual Entertainment, which had obtained the license for a Star Trek MMO, and was working on their own game called "Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising". Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising has now been canceled, and Perpetual Entertainment, Inc. was dissolved and assets transferred to Perpetual LLC. All of this definitely sends up all the warning flags that in order to survive, the company has to focus.

I think as far as MMOGs go, while there have been some new releases, what ends up happening is that people keep returning to World of Warcraft, because it's what's familiar to them, and that's where they've spent the most time, and I think it'll be some time before people get bored enough of World of Warcraft to try other games.

Another Bonus of Having an iPhone

...you're never too far from an Internet connection. I just managed to check into an airplane flight and post this entry from my iPhone. Expect more entries like this from MacWorld!

links for 2008-01-11


MacWorld SF 2008 Predictions

I hate writing predictions about MacWorld because it's so hard to predict what will be revealed, but everyone always asks me what I think it's going to be, so here goes.

October 2007 unloaded a bunch of new Apple products upon us, including the iPod Touch and iPod nano, and refreshes for the iPod shuffle and the rebranding of the iPod to the iPod classic. Apple has always been on the cutting edge when it comes to the inclusion of new technology into their computers, their last significant breakthrough being LED backlights instead of the traditional fluorescent tubes. Presently, it's only the pro-level MacBook Pros that have this feature; and I expect the next generation of MacBooks to have it as well. The designs of the Macs haven't changed for years -- The MacPro is still housed in the PowerMac G5 cheese grater shell, while the MacBook Pro can still be mistaken for a previous generation Powerbook G4.

Apple has demonstrated with the iPhone that they can make touch computing work on a cellphone, but can it possibly translate to that of personal computers? How about instead of having a keyboard, there's a touch sensitive keyboard instead? There are problems, of course, touching a flat LCD screen doesn't have the tactility of a real plastic keyboard, and then there's the cost of making a touch sensitive keyboard as large as a laptop screen.

A smaller sized device (MacBook nano, anyone?) utilizing the latest in technology such as a solid state drive would be possible to build -- but is there a market for a small ultra-portable touch-based laptop? I believe that Apple may be moving in the other direction -- instead of concentrating on touch computing for their laptop lines, touch may actually arrive on the desktops first. It has been some time since Apple updated their Cinema displays, and adding touch to computers that don't require it would be a good step for them in terms of a revision one release. After the technology is proven and the kinks ironed out, then we'd see release on the laptops that would rely on this technology. (Most likely with OS X 10.6, whatever that might be). The idea of a small ultra-portable is not lost on Apple; with ASUS' eeePC eating up the market, Apple needs to have a ultraportable out there.

Apple rentals. This one is a given. After Jobs' demo on how to make a ringtone for your iPhone, expect a similar demonstration for how to rent a movie from the iTunes store, as well as how to convert it to a permanent movie. Expect more integration of iTunes and AppleTV, possibly even using the iPod touch/iPhone as a control device for AppleTV. One can also expect Apple to announce the new ability of discs to have iPod/iTunes ready content prepared to make downloading video to your iPod easier.

Blu-ray. I expect Jobs to formally annouce Blu-ray support for the Mac platform. Jobs had a Sony rep walk on stage two years ago, and for what purpose? Just to promote HD video support for Quicktime? I think there's a bit more to it than that.

iPhone SDK: due out in February, I'm sure Jobs wants to give us a short demo on what it can do.

iPhone flip. This one comes from my own private wishlist -- but a clamshell based iPhone is going to sell better than a slate-style phone -- this is especially true for people who throw their cellphones around or put there cellphones in places that scratch things up.

iPhone Home. A landline based iPhone/Answering Machine. While I'd like to believe that most of the people out there have cellphones, there's a bunch of people out there whose phones never leave the house. But how cool would it be to be able to surf the web and talk on the phone at the same time? Besides, Apple made the iPod HiFi, why not an iPhone Home?

I think it's still too early for Apple to set up themselves for an eReader, but given that Amazon is one of their major competitors, it would not surprise me if Apple managed to set up a deal with some book publishers to make their content readable on an iPod.

Anything related to imaging and Aperture, I suspect will be held off until the PMA in late January, and as MacWorld grows bigger every year, there is less emphasis on Mac, and more on Apple. Last year, the vendors were definitely more on showcasing iPod cases and peripherals than anything else at the show, and I think we'll see a lot of iPhone cases and accessories this time around.

links for 2008-01-10


Apple Releases New XServe and MacPro Ahead of MacWorld

In a surprise move today, Apple has announced the release of a new MacPro sporting dual Quad Xeons starting at $2,799, and a new XServe for $2,999. Traditionally announcements about new Apple computers have been made at or following MacWorld's keynote. The pre-MacWorld announcement of these two computer upgrades may indicate that the Jobs Keynote to be given next week in San Francisco is going to be packed with excitement -- these new Quad Xeon models are sporting 2x the processing power of the outgoing models, but apparently this news is not exciting enough for MacWorld.

Given that Jobs has two hours to announce the new products and recap on the performance of the company over the holiday season, this new release will probably still be mentioned in the keynote briefly. In the Keynote last year, Jobs spent 15 minutes on the announcement of the AppleTV, and nearly an hour explaining the iPhone. This leads to speculation that whatever new product Apple is announcing at MacWorld is probably going to require some explanation and a demonstration.

Review: Sushi 85

In the Grant Road Nob Hill Supermarket shopping plaza, there's a sushi restaurant called "Sushi 85", The 85 apparently comes from their location close to the 85 freeway entrance, and Sushi, because if you run a Japanese restaurant in the United States, even in a multicultural area like the Bay Area, people naturally assume that Japanese Restaurant equals sushi. The truth is, the Sushi restaurant is a specialized type of Japanese restaurant -- the other types are things I wish we'd see more of in the Bay Area, like places that specialize in food items that aren't sushi. Sushi 85 is not one of those places. They do sushi, and they do it enmasse, as in "All-You-Can-Eat Sushi".

If you're looking for a genuinely Japanese Sushi experience, don't come here, for it is run by Chinese people and as an All-You-Can-Eat place, the concept is not really a Japanese one. While the chef will greet you in the traditional "Irasshaimase", but don't expect much conversation if you're trying to polish your Japanese skills. I've done my fair share of All-You-Can-Eat Sushi, and I can probably cram more rice and fish down my throat as much as any other competitve eater. They run this place efficiently -- a laminated menu and an dry-erase pen to mark down your choices and the orders arrives quickly, fresh from the sushi chef. Tea arrives with its own pot, allowing you to serve yourself, and servers come back to snatch up the dishes almost as soon as you've finished the items on the plate. They allow ordering three items at a time, a marked difference from places that allow you to order three for your first order, and one each for each successive one.

Their lunch menu is diverse in offering nigiri, rolls, and temaki (hand rolls) but also feels constrained as far as selection goes. It seemed that most items on the menu were deep fried or slathered with sauce. They use a thick, sweet brown sauce to top several of their rolls -- their worst offender was the spider roll and the rolls containing eel. Their fish is fresh, but you won't be seeing any of the more expensive fishes in the rolls -- only in the nigiri. Their crab is the imitation type (except in the soft-shell) mixed with mayo.

While I've definitely had better All-You-Can-Eat sushi, I've also had a lot worse. If you're looking to fill up on sushi for lunch in Mountain View, and you don't work at Google, and you don't want to spend more than $20, give Sushi 85 a try. If you're a real sushi connoisseur, you'll get better use out of your money by spending $10 to $20 more at a real sushi place.

Sidenote: It's been a good seven or eight hours later and I'm still burping up the remnants of lunch.


Flickr: Sushi 85

links for 2008-01-09


CES 2008

Every January, the Consumer Electronics Show sweeps through Las Vegas showing off objects of lust for gadget lovers for the year ahead. Last year MacWorld and CES ran concurrently, which resulted in the iPhone pretty much stealing the spotlight away from CES. This year, CES is running a week in advance of MacWorld, and so far, there have been some interesting items of note to appear:
    Thin is In
    It seems that many electronics manufacturers were showing off new televisions this week, with several manufacturers revealing ultra thin plasma and LCD televisions. The thinnest being Pioneer's 51 inch plasma Project KURO, at a mere 9mm (0.35 inches) thick and weighing a scant 40 pounds. They're claiming an infinite contrast ratio, as it is capable of getting pixels to emit no light.
In the old days of CES, video game systems and game software used to showcase here. I think people were having too much fun playing videogames and pretty much ignoring the other vendors, so they made the videogame industry start their own version of CES, called E3. E3 grew until it imploded on itself, creating the lame version of E3 at the Santa Monica Hangars, and the extra lame "E for All Expo".

The New York Times is saying that the CES is still too diluted with products:

    Now, electronics makers and industry analysts say the show has become so loud, sprawling and preoccupied with technical esoterica that for many companies, it is as much a place to get lost as to get discovered.
The runaway hits of the last year were products not introduced at CES. The Nintendo Wii (introduced at E3) and the iPhone (introduced at MacWorld). New York Times brings up a good point -- the CES is so packed with product announcements that they drown each other out, which was the reason why a lot of videogame companies felt that E3 was no longer useful. In the old days if you wanted to see what was out there in the world of consumer electronics, you'd read an electronics magazine or maybe you'd head out to your electronics retailer and get some brochures, maybe even a product catalog. Today, I think the internet has changed that landscape drastically. Consumers can find out all the relevant details of a product by surfing the manufacturer's website. The things coming out of CES these days are more of the same of what you can already buy at your retailer -- newer cellphones, newer tvs, newer computers -- but anything that's truly innovative gets announced outside of CES, and I think a bigger part of it is that for consumers to get it, it needs to be explained to them, maybe even experienced by them so they can figure out how this new device can fit into their lives.

NYT asks whether the show could produce a new hit product, and the senior VP of Industry Relations had this to say: "It could be the Sony Rolly robot. It's a small media player that rolls around like a robot."

A rolling media player? Why in the world would I ever want that? If I don't even want it, try convincing the rest of America that a rolling media player is the killer product of 2008. Robots, in general don't do well in the United States -- a lifetime of science fiction movies, where robots are as capable, or even more capable than their human masters, has all wanting positronic androids, rather than these highly advanced single purpose machines. I think actually, the announcement that will have the most impact on the consumer electronics industry for the next year has already been made: the decision by Warner Bros. to throw their support Blu-ray's way. With Blu-ray being the winner, all those sitting on the fence about purchasing Hi-definition equipment can finally buy a Blu-ray player.

links for 2008-01-08


BSG Season Three DVD

Battlestar Galactica: Season Three is available for pre-order on Amazon. Priced at 59.79, you only save a whopping 19 cents on this 6 disc set, leading me to wonder why Amazon's prices on DVDs have been so high lately -- is it because they're trying to keep the price of Unbox episodes (30.25 for the entire season) competitive with the DVD releases? With such a small discount for the DVD, it really feels like Amazon wants to encourage us to buy our DVDs elsewhere -- Costco perhaps?
canon2470.jpg As 2007 drew to a close, I ordered the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens, to fill in the gap of f/2.8L lenses in my collection. Two years ago, I had purchased the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L USM IS lens as a general walkabout lens for my Canon EOS 20D. Since then, I have purchased a Canon EOS 5D and use the 20D mostly as a secondary body. I've also purchased a Canon PowerShot SD800 IS to do most of my photography that doesn't involve a DSLR.

Designwise, the 24-70 is the mechanical inverse of the 24-105. While both feature a telescoping design, on the 24-70, the widest angle is when the tube is fully extended, and on the 24-105, the widest angle is when the tube is fully retracted. The location of the lens hood is different also, where the 24-105 is attached to the telescoping front element, and the 24-70 lens hood is attached at a stationary mount point unattached to the front element.

The 24-105 acts as a great introduction to Canon's professional L series of lenses. It is a general purpose lens, and it covers the range of 24mm to 105mm. It includes image stabilization, which helps in situations where you want to avoid camera shake and use a slower shutter speed. My one problem with this lens is that at f/4, this lens isn't fast. The image stabilization is especially useful at focal ranges upwards of 70mm.

When I first attached the 24-70 to my 5D and looked through the viewfinder, my first reaction was "Shouldn't this thing go further?" The 24-105 has spoiled me in this respect, giving me an additional 35mm of zoom. While it doesn't seem like a lot, it is an additional 43% of range over the 24-70.

Both the 24-105 and the 24-70 have always been close in terms of price, with a $100 price difference between the two. The 24-70 f/2.8L has a larger aperture, while the 24-105 f/4L features image stabilization and 35mm more range.

I tested these two lenses against each other in a series of tests, pitting aperture size against image stabilization, as well as seeing if there was any visible difference between the two lenses at an aperture size of f/4.

In photography, the general guideline is that one should try and shoot at a shutter speed no greater than the inverse of the focal length of the lens. This means that using a 50mm lens, the shutter speed to use is no more than 1/50, because at speeds slower than that, one can introduce camera shake to the photograph. Image stabilization on the 24-105 helps this by attempting to remove camera shake by using a lens which corrects for this -- effectively adding 3 stops to the camera, meaning that at 105mm, one could effectively handhold a shot up to a shutter speed of 1/15. Shooting at such a low shutter speed introduces the problem of motion blur, which image stabilization cannot correct for.

In my tests, I was shooting in a natural light lit room, at ISO 400 and f/4 aperture size. The difference between the two lenses are negligible at f/4. The photos below feature one being taken with 24-70, and the other being taken by the 24-105 at a 24mm:


The picture that features the slightly wider perspective is the 24-105. Because both pictures were shot from the same spot, and because the 24-70 is slightly longer than the 24-105, the difference due to the difference in length from the two lenses.

My small subcompact Canon PowerShot SD800 IS features a focal length of 28-105mm, so I shot the following picture:

At web resolutions, the shot looks brighter than the other two shots, and just as crisp and focused, but while the DSLR shots were taken at ISO 400 with a aperture size of f/4 and a shutter speed of 1/640, the SD800 took the shot at at ISO 400 with an aperture of f/2.8 and a shutter speed of 1/60. A closer look at the file reveals the SD800 contains much more noise than either of the DSLR shots.

In the end, the question of which lens to buy comes down to the user and their purpose. For someone who wants a lens that they can use all day long, the 24-105 f/4L is a well-rounded versatile lens. It has its shortcomings in low light conditions, but the extra length and the image stabilization at the longer end make up for that. I have gone on trips where the the 24-105 was my main lens.

The 24-70, while heavier and featuring a shorter range, also features a much larger aperture, making it a faster lens. On a 1.6x crop factor camera, the 24-70 is a good length, but on a full-frame camera like the 5D, it feels rather short. This is likely why Canon chose to bundle the Canon EF 24-105 f/4L USM lens with the EOS 5D Both are really good lenses, and after this series of tests, I can really no longer recommend one over the other, as they are both good for different reasons.

Is the War Between HD-DVD and Blu-ray Over

Earlier this week, Warner Bros. announced that they were going Blu-ray only, and dropping support for HD-DVD. Only Paramount and Universal are the studios left backing HD-DVD. Sony, Fox, Disney, Lionsgate and now Warner support Blu-ray. Interestingly, it may have been the Sony Playstation 3 that swung favor over in favor of Blu-ray, as each PS3 also functioned as a Blu-ray player. In 2007, the number of Blu-ray discs sold outnumbered HD-DVDs two to one. I also suspect that the stronger copy protection scheme for Blu-ray probably has something to do with the studios favoring the format.

Interestingly enough, the DIVX format lasted for about as long as the HD-DVD vs Blu-ray format war, and in that case, the reason for studios to join DIVX over DVD was also due to the stronger copy protection scheme offered by DIVX. Interestingly enough, the last holdouts for the DIVX format (Dreamworks, Fox and Paramount) are almost the same ones who are last holding out for HD-DVD (Dreamworks, Universal and Paramount). There's another similarity in this format war; DIVX was a consortium between Circuit City and various movie studios, while DVD was an open format. While in the hi-def case, both formats are closed, Sony's Blu-ray format was developed with studio interests in mind, while the HD-DVD format was mainly backed (at first) by hardware manufacturers. HD-DVD was able to create cheaper players, but not able to supply the movies.

I think the lesson to be learned here is that you can't make a successful media platform without media, and that studio support can be bought with large wheelbarrows full of money. There's probably a lesson in all of this here for those that want to make movies downloadable, as downloadable content is independent of media format.

links for 2008-01-07


links for 2008-01-05


links for 2008-01-03


links for 2008-01-02