Sunday, 25 January 2009

Canon EOS 450d

I've recently had the dubious pleasure of turning 30 and having been considering investing in an SLR camera for quite some time decided this was the excuse I needed to splash out a bit. Amazon wish lists come in very handy, I just picked the stuff I wanted and saved to a list so people could just buy from that. My whole family were all very generous and all chipped in to get the following bits and pieces that now make up my starter SLR kit:

This is my first venture into the world of SLR so I'll spare trying to do a full review and leave that to the pros. If you're interested, you can see the specs over at Canon and three pro reviews from sites I would recommend are Camera Labs, DP Review, and Steve's Digicams.

It was never really going to be much of a contest for me as to which brand and camera to go for since I've been using Canon compacts for years. When the 450d came out it immediately caught my attention as a very decent starter SLR and had the much reviewed live view feature that being a regular digital compact user I would expect to see. Now I've been using it for a while though I find I hardly rely on live view at all instead preferring the view finder. For me this actually feels quite retro - how often do you see a compact user with the camera up to their eye? This has a lot to do with the view finder in an SLR being far superior to those on compacts but also the live view is a lot clunkier to use. Using the SLR has made me realise just how fantastic and how much is packed into a decent compact camera like my current Canon A650 IS.

At the moment the starter kit I've got is fairly minimal but does provide the flexibility to take a lot of different shots while I learn how to handle and get the best results from the camera. I'm using the UV filter as a lens protector for the kit lens with the polariser on the long lens mostly. They're not much of a pain to swap, however, I think I'll end up getting a second UV filter for the long lens and swap in the polariser as required. The SD card is great, the Extreme III series have given me no problems in this or other cameras, would certainly recommend. The bags too are great, cheaper and more flexible than the Canon supplied bags and having a larger and smaller bag offers some good flexibility.

I'd welcome comments on other accessories I could get in the future. On my immediate list will be that second UV filter, a lens blower and cleaner, a remote shutter release and a light box (probably to be home made). Longer term I will consider other lenses, speedlights, a tripod upgrade, and possibly a spare battery although battery life is good on the 450d.

You can see my various attempts wit he 450d over on my Flickr pages.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Eco-Wool Loft Insulation

So now I'm cold, the reason being I've just been in our loft to take the most boring picture (right). But cold is good, right? That means my loft insulation must be working quite well on this cold winters evening. After my previous eco-minded post about our new LED light I thought I'd put up some info about another of our recent projects at home, insulating the loft.

It's a pretty simple job if somewhat cramped, dark and grim. It's well worth doing though as we can testify to having a warm house, cold loft, and doing well in the "who's roof melts the frost first" competition in our street. Loft insulation is supposed to be about the best bang-for-your-buck thing to do in terms of home efficiency; I've definitely noticed our radiators coming on a lot less. We're now up to a whopping 300mm insulation so well above the rafters and above what I still think is the recommended minimum of 250mm.

The real reason behind this post though is to say be careful when choosing what product you use. Don't just go to the local hardware store and buy the bulk standard "space blanket". Grand though it may sound those products are said to cause quite a lot of harm during manufacture. I've fitted Eco Wool (terrible web site, decent product) which is available in the UK through B&Q. While not the most ecological product ever (it uses 15% polyester for binding) it does use recycled plastic for the most part. It's very thick and has pretty good insulating properties, cheap and is easy to get hold of.

Unlike my post about our LED light I can't finish on any drawbacks with this one, there are none. Go insulate your loft, and think about what you lay first! Eco-warrior over and out.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

LED Lighting

We're having a little bit of work done on the house and as part of that I had to move the outside light by the front door. On further inspection I found the old light wasn't going to cut the mustard in the new location, it wasn't going to be waterproof for one, which is sort of important. So a great excuse as if any were needed to buy something new and funky!

The obvious choice to me was to look into whether LED lights are available for outside lighting. Imagine my surprise when I found it seems they're actually getting quite commonplace and we were able to nip down to our local DIY store and pick one up. For some reason I was expecting to hunt around Internet sites and order one. The pictures shows what we bought. It's a fairly small chrome effect affair with two plastic panels beyond which are mounted a total of 24 white LEDs, 12 of these are at the front and 12 to the rear.

It provides plenty of light, not massively bright and offensive like security lighting, but easily enough to see your way up the drive to the doorway. The best part of this, as with all LED lighting, is the power usage. My current cost meter doesn't budge when it's turned on, not even a sniff of a change in power usage. Assuming I've not wired it up to some free electric supply I'm not aware of, or accidentally stolen from our neighbours, I can only conclude all 24 LEDs are using less than one watt of power. It's my first LED installation at home and almost certainly wont be the last.

I hate to finish on a downer but there are drawbacks of course. The LEDs are not replaceable so if one dies, however unlikely, you have to put up with it looking silly or replace the entire light. The other is the colour of the light, we've all been brought up with tungsten lighting so the colour of LED light does take a little getting used to.

Monday, 12 January 2009

BBC iPlayer Coming to Linux

BBC iPlayer Logo
As the BBC recently announced they have developed a version of iPlayer that works on Linux, Windows and Mac: "The BBC, working with Adobe, has developed the new version, known as BBC iPlayer Desktop."

In a similar way (and name) to Google Labs, the BBC have come up with iPlayer Labs where they will trial the latest beta features for iPlayer before full release to the masses. This brings an exciting addition to current iPlayer capabilities, the iPlayer Desktop. Written for the Adobe Air platform, it works across all the supported operating systems and desktops, bringing the benefits of Air to the BBC developers. I think this is a safe and sensible choice for the BBC and should provide great functionality for we end users along with the slick Adobe interface. The reason this is exciting for Linux users is the desktop version brings the download capability, so no more 2nd class citizen for Linux users as we can now download the higher quality versions of BBC programming. Thanks Beeb!

If you want to give it a try, go to the iPlayer Labs page, click the link to say you would like to be a labs tester, then next time you attempt to download a programme, you'll be prompted to download and install the Adobe Air iPlayer bundle first. After that, just use the iPlayer desktop app in the same way as your other Air apps.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Plusnet or Minusnet?

After coming back from New York in September, I uploaded my pictures to my personal web site. Nothing unusual for me there, except this time I realised I was nearly hitting the space limit my ISP enforces for my web space. At the time I figured all would be fine so I set about contacting them for a space increase. Now given I've been a customer for many years and always used their premium services (to get better speeds, more usage allowance and no traffic shaping) and the fact disk space is cheap (especially when talking in terms of MB) I even thought they'd probably give me more space at no charge. I hold Plusnet in reasonably high regard, customer service is great, network speeds are OK and things just seem reliable and work well, on this occasion though I was wrong. The conversation between me and Plusnet follows:

Is it possible to increase my Web Space quota beyond 250MB?
My current usage is reported as 241MB, 96.4%. I use the web space primarily for my personal photographs which I resize to a small size and use JPEG compression so I'm not abusing the space. However, it seems after 8 years or so I'm now approaching 250MB.
Many thanks in advance for the information.

Dear Mr White,
I am afraid it is not possible to increase the webspace allowance on accounts at the present time.
Kind regards

That's really very unfortunate. Is there really no option to increase the 250MB quota, even if some charge were involved? I even pay a premium for the Your Way Pro service.
I'm a long-standing plusnet customer and one of the reasons I originally chose plusnet was for the web space and hosting of PHP+MySQL sites.
Are plusnet prepared to lose customers based on something this simple? If so, I'll have no choice but to re-evaluate my web hosting solution in which I will take into account my ADSL provider.
Hoping you can reconsider this decision or policy.

Dear Mr White,
Thank you for getting back to us. Unfortunately it is not possible to change the webspace allowance unless you were to move to our top business account. Our system does not allow us to add additional webspace and although we intend to offer this in the future we have no firm plans at present.
Kind regards

I find it hard to come to terms with the fact "their system" must be so terrible and essentially equate the response to the Little Brittain sketch "computer says no!".

This was all going on at the same time Roo was becoming frustrated with Plusnet as well. I can definitely sympathise with many of Roo's points and Plusnet have left me considering my options as well.

The reason I still maintain a web site is purely legacy. There once was a time when the likes of Flickr simply didn't exist and if you wanted to share photos on-line, you had to do it yourself. I'd quite happily move over to Flickr for hosting my pictures, it would be more convenient in a number of ways and sort of removes the need for hosting my own web site and therefore my tie to Plusnet.

It's got me thinking again recently, what services do I use/need and how much am I willing to pay for them. Currently my broadband is nearly £20 per month, with other providers I could get broadband, phone and television for that amount!!! Unfortunately, I don't live in an area catered for by cable services so I have to use ADSL broadband and non-cable phone/television.

If anybody has some good experiences or recommendations, do let me know as I start to look around now.

Edit #1
Since writing Plusnet have phoned me at home to discuss my requirements, another indication of their really excellent customer service. If I do decide to move away from them it will certainly be hard and with regret. Basically, I want something a bit cheaper with no speed restrictions and a sensible download limit if any. Plusnet offer only one service with no speed restrictions, the one I'm using already.
End Edit

Edit #2
As Roo pointed out in his post, Plusnet are using Twitter and search for people talking about Plusnet. They contacted me through Twitter to point out a relatively recent announcement about changes in their web hosting service which are currently under trial. Great stuff, weird how I only find this out through Twitter though, rather than through the formal methods of their helpdesk, through their community web site or by talking with them on the phone all of which I've done recently.
End Edit