Thursday, July 28, 2011

Asus WL-330gE repeater/access point/Ethernet Adapter: Buy One!

(Alert -- I describe this unit below. It is selling for $34.99 with a $20 rebate at newegg until July 31. Sorry for the short notice. )

I've had one of these sitting in my supplies area for a while, waiting for me to get around to testing it. I finally got around to trying it out yesterday, and I was well and truly impressed with how well it works and how easy it is to set up.

What exactly does this do? First, it can serve as a wireless router. Most of us already have a wireless router, which takes the internet signal from a cable or DSL modem, and then broadcasts that internet signal to your wi-fi equipped computers and printers.

This device also serves as an Ethernet adapter or bridge, where it receives a wifi signal from my existing wireless router, and serves up the internet signal to a computer without a wifi receiver. For instance, in the basement, I have a 10-year-old Mac that I use to create prints on an old but still good large-format Epson printer. This Mac has a wired Ethernet port to connect to the internet, but it does not have a wifi card that would allow it to connect to my wireless network. This Asus unit, when set up as an Ethernet adapter (which was as simple as connecting it to a computer and selecting a button telling it to work as an Ethernet adapter), receives the wifi signal from my router upstairs, and transmits the internet signal to my old Mac, through the wired Ethernet port. Voila -- the old Mac now has internet and is now part of my home network, so I can transfer files easily to and from it.

I've tried devices in the past to make wifi/Ethernet bridges work, and it would take hours and hours of my time to figure out. I'd figure the thing out, spend another two hours documenting every step of what I did, then the power would go out or the device would stop working. I'd have to spend another hour going over my instructions and getting the bridge to work again. Not with this unit -- it took less than two minutes.

This device can also work as a repeater, where it will accept your wifi signal and then transmit it again, extending the coverage of your wifi network.

It's selling for $34.99 with a $20 rebate at newegg until July 31. I just bought myself another unit. Sorry for the short notice.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Quick Guide to Using a Canon 7D in a Nauticam Housing

I’ve been shooting with a Canon 7D in a Nauticam housing for several months now. I am a longtime Nikon user, so using Canon gear has required me to relearn some habits. I’ve been very impressed with the Nauticam housing, as well as the prompt service and skilled and knowledgeable staff of Reef Photo. Being able to shoot video as well as stills with the 7D is wonderful.

Physical Setup:
Remember to remove the eyepiece from the camera (I am told by Reef Photo that this should not be necessary).
When mounting camera on the bottom plate: remember to align the pin on the bottom plate to the hole in the camera body.
Mounting zoom gear on the Tokina 10-17mm lens: the first piece, the plastic C-ring, goes on first. There is a lip on the front of this C-ring. The lip should face the front of the lens. Put the C-ring so it controls the zooming of the lens. Then put the zoom gear over the C-ring with the gears facing the back of the lens. The gear will stop at the lip of the C-ring. See the diagram and PDF from Nauticam.

When installing the port extension – turn CCW. BE sure to lubricate the O-rings so that they slide in easily and don’t get pinched.
Getting the extension ring off: use a strap wrench from an automotive store. If you have a strap wrench on the extension ring and are holding the larger dome face down on a table, you want to turn the extension ring CCW, until the dash on the extension ring aligns with the circle on the dome.

Camera settings:
Set color space to Adobe RGB
Set image review to 8 seconds

If shooting wide-angle subjects like whales and sharks in blue water, it is better to prefocus before the shot and to disable autofocus. Trying to focus on, say, a dark sperm whale in blue water can lead to a situation where the autofocus hunts back and forth, never able to lock on the subject. Deactivating the shutter-released-based autofocusing and setting prefocus at about 3 feet is the best way to get shots of big animals.
To do the above,: in custom menu, disable AF when shutter release is half-depressed. Remember to turn this back on for most other kinds of shooting, such as macro. .
Focusing on your fin sets the lens to 3 feet or so –and in 99% of situations, that focusing distance will be fine to photograph animals that are anywhere from 2 feet to 40 feet away. Look through the viewfinder and set your focus on your fin. Since you’ve disabled autofocus using the shutter release button, you must focus using the AF-On button. On the Nauticam housing, this is the first lever on your right. I prefocus when I am getting ready for an animal to approach, and I also use the AF-On lever to focus on an animal if conditions are right for autofocusing.

I strongly recommend autobracketing all images. With the Canon 7D, a custom setting allows you to keep the autobracket setting even after the camera is turned on and off again. I keep my camera set permanently so that it autobrackets my exposures.

Seeing the remaining shots left on your card is a bit difficult with the Nauticam, since you cannot see the upper LED panel on the camera body. In the viewfinder, you can only see remaning “burst shots” left, which is not an indication of how many shots you have left on your card (far more important to me, since I need to know how many shots I have left before I have to get out of the water and change cards).
There are two ways you can have an idea of how many shots you have left on your card. I use 8Gb and 16Gb cards in my 7D. I know that in general, without any video shooting, I have about 250 shots in an 8Gb card. If I do an image review, the image number shows up on the last image that I just shot. If I am on image 150, then I know that I have about 100 shots left.
The better way to see how many shots you have remaining is to activate Live View shooting. Just press the start/stop button to activate Live View shooting, and the number of shots remaining on the card appears in the lower part of the screen.

When shooting large animals in blue water without flash units, I usually set the camera to shutter priority mode, with the shutter speed 1/125 or more. I set the exposure to –1/3 stop, with autobracketing set around this point, so that exposures range from –2/3 stop to 0 stops from the automatic exposure recommendation. This generally renders blue water a nice rich, deep blue and slightly reduces the tendency to overexposure in blue water shooting. In clear tropical water, with the sun out, I’ll set the ISO speed to 160 or 320 rather than using the automatic ISO mode, since the 7D’s sensor has been proven to have much less noise when set at multiples of 160 rather than intermediate settings such as 250. I’ll review what I just shot to make sure that the exposure looks fine, and that my aperture is generally being set to f5.6 or higher. I do all these settings through the Q menu, which allows all these settings except changing the mode from, say, S to M.

I use a Tokina 10-17mm lens behind a 100mm Zen glass dome to shoot large animals. I’ve been pleased with the results. Note that you do not need an exension ring to use the Zen dome with the Tokina 10-17mm lens; I bought my Zen dome from Reef Photo and they made the dome with the Tokina lens in mind. They have a different model of the Zen dome that is customized for other lenses like the Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. Ryan Canon at Reef Photo writes about this: “We have a different model for 10.5 that uses a shorter extension ring. If you were to switch back to Nikon we could convert the port back to the correct length for 10.5, but it is more difficult than you'll want to do yourself. “

When shooting video:
I first set focus by using the AF-ON button while in “stills shooting mode.” When video is working properly, a live view mode will come on. If you are recording, be sure that the red dot in the upper R-hand corner of the frame appears. This is difficult to see when the camera is in the housing. .

When shooting video, AF works, but it takes a good three seconds. Make sure when pressing the AF-ON button that the AF sensor is focused on a good point. See the manual for an explanation.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Nikon and Canon refurbished stores

Here's a link to the refurbished lenses section of the Nikon store. Some good deals, some not-so-good deals. I just bought a 14-24mmf2.8 lens for a good deal.

The Canon refurb store has good items for Canon shooters:

I am buying a lot of refurbished stuff these days, from to the Canon refurb store, to other places. Never a problem except perhaps for my Western Digital media players. I would recommend against buying refurbished hard drives.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Book recommendations part 1

A good book recommendation is a great gift. There are so many bad books out there. Here are some of my favorite authors and books:

Neal Stephenson is one of my favorite authors. He is revered by SF fans but is much more than that, more of a historian with a science bent. A quick read (very much SF) is Snow Crash. Cryptonomicon is an absolute masterpiece. I've not been able to get through his later very dense three-part novels. Not sure if his newest, Anathem, is good either.

Mystery/crime novels, not serious reading: anything by Michael Connelly. Start with The Poet, and you may likely want to read the rest of his books.

Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barret: History of the Franklin expedition but actually interesting.

Anything by Michael Lewis (Moneyball) or Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers). They write nonfiction about things that you would normally take for granted or not think about.

I like the books that I’ve read by Cormac McCarthy: All the Pretty Horses, The Road, and No Country for Old Men (which the movie follows very closely).

Get iPhone-like service everywhere less expensively than through AT&T or Verizon's commitments

If you want to save money on cell phone service and still get Iphone-like service, here’s an inexpensive option.

cell phone: Net10 service at $15 per month if you don't talk too much ($15 will get you 150 minutes per month under their $30/300 minutes/2 month plan).

Buy any old iPod touch. This will run your iPhone apps, the same as an iPhone but no voice calls. It will run on wifi. For instance, $150 for Refurbished iPod touch, 8GB (previous generation) at the Apple Store now!

Then buy a Virgin Mobile USB modem from Walmart (must buy from Walmart to get their special one month, 1Gb data plan) which will work on your laptop. It also works with a Cradlepoint portable wifi router.

Plug the Virgin Mobile USB modem in the Cradlepoint, and you get a wifi signal! $20 per month for 1Gb of data. You can use your laptop, ipod touch, an ipad, etc on the wifi router. It's portable and has a battery that lasts three hours.

monthly charge:

Net10 cell phone $15

Virgin Mobile data 20

Total monthly only $35 per month!!!!

Upfront costs:

ipod touch $150

Net10 phone free, from Norb, or I can point you to the website

Cradlepoint router $65

Virgin USB modem 70

Total upfront equipment costs: $285

No early termination fees. Month to month, prepaid. Out of town for a month -- no problem. Just don't pay, and restart the service when you are back.

I am using the above, and have been extremely happy with the Virgin Mobile service. It is just about anywhere I have been.

Another option to the above is the Virgin Mobile Peel, which attaches to an iPod touch and provides a wifi signal to the iPod touch, thus transforming it into an iPhone. Add voice capabilities with a Skype application.

You can also buy a Blackberry from Walmart for $99 and get unlimited data and voice from Virgin Mobile for $35 per month.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Google Maps Takes Me on a Ride in Seattle

When the sun comes out in Seattle, all these pear-shaped, shabbily-dressed, pale white people come outside from their caves. Some of the men take their shirts off, which is not a good thing to see. The city becomes crowded with people who walk in the streets instead of the sidewalk. Folks who should not be driving decide to take their car out for a spin. Perhaps even the computers that serve up directions on Google Maps get a little heady. I was the recipient of this stuff from Google Maps.

I asked for directions from Google Maps, from a friend's house to the Seatac airport. Attached are the resulting directions.

The directions aren't bad at first glance. I drove following the first 8 lines just fine. When the directions said "turn L at Mercer Street" then I started to get into trouble. Mercer Street was closed for repairs. I don't blame Google Maps for this, and the city had posted detour signs.

However, trying to follow the detour, I ran into a huge traffic jam. Seattle drivers do not know that they should leave intersections open with their cars. As a result, even if a light turned green, no one could move. I threaded my way for about an hour to get to a street where I could finally get onto I-5.

I had been to Seatac several times before, but I was not confident, so I followed Google Maps. If you look at the directions, you will see that Google Maps must have wanted me to see different parts of the city before arriving at the airport. It had me get off I-5, get onto I-90 East, then exit at Rainier Avenue and then take a leisurely loop tour in the North Beacon Hill area. This took another hour or so. I went through all kinds of small streets, having no idea why.

I was finally directed back to I-5 after this side trip, and I made it to Seatac airport, about 2 and a half hours after leaving my friend Dave's place near Ballard Locks.

I checked the same route for Google Maps today, and I could not re-create the route it gave me yesterday. The directions put me on I-5 and kept me on I-5 until I reached Seatac, very direct, very easy, 30 minutes rather than 150 minutes. WTF?

Thanks again to my friend Dave for inviting me to his wedding party, the only social event I've been invited to in about 4 years.

Ways to Extend Your Internet Wifi Signal in a Large House

I have a friend who asked me how to get his internet signal to the far parts of his house.

Here are some ways to have your network go to various parts of your house.

First, the internet signal comes into your house via DSL or cable internet modem. I alternate between the two. Once in your house, internet signal is internet signal. No difference.

From the modem, internet signal goes to a wifi router. This is what you have already. The wifi router has a switch, likely 4 ports that you can string Ethernet cables to various computers. But computers within your wifi range will just use wifi, not Ethernet.

Use (if your wires in the house are on the same circuit), what are called Ethernet over Power, or Powerline adapters to get the internet signal from one side of the house to another, if your house is large. For instance, we get our internet signal at the guest house in Crocker. Deanna's office is 100 yards away, in the main house. She cannot get a good wifi signal there. So I bought two POE adapters. I put one near the router, connected by an Ethernet cable. The other one is on an AC outlet in her room, and an Ethernet cable goes from the POE adapter to her computer. Very easy to set up. Some of the AC outlets in her room did NOT work. Some did.

I've seen these or similars sold for $25 each, $50 a pair.

Some POE adapters come with a switch so you can connect four devices to one POE adapter. You can also put a wifi router on the POE adapter to become a second wifi base station. Any router can do this but it can take a lot of hassle. I think that products called wifi bridges, repeaters, or access points do the same thing.

Wireless AP / Bridges / Repeaters

You can also get wifi range extenders. I have not tried these. You just plug these into an AC outlet that is far away, but within reach of your wifi signal, and it provides a strong signal from there.

Getting Sound on Your HDTV using HDMI from a Windows 7 Laptop

I bought an inexpensive MSI laptop a few months ago, and I've been impressed with it and Windows 7. It does just about everything I need it to. I forgot my power supply for my MacBook Pro on a recent trip and was forced to use the MSI laptop to do everything.

There's less and less difference now between using a Mac and a PC. Firefox browsers work the same on both platforms. I use (and like very much) the Thunderbird email program for the Mac; the PC version is much the same.

The great thing about this new Windows 7 laptop is that it comes with Windows Media Player software installed as part of the Windows 7 Home Premium operating system. I can use the laptop as a DVR, to schedule and record my favorite television programs. This is a remarkably good and easy-to-use software package.

The MSI laptop comes with an HDMI output. I simply attached an HDMI cable from the laptop to my HDTV, and voila! I had a great picture on the television that mirrored what I saw on the laptop screen. I initially had sound that came over the HDMI cable and came out through the TV speakers, but I lost that once I plugged headphones into the laptop.

This is where the old Windows took over, where you had to spend hours fiddling with the machine to finally get things working again. Luckily for me, there was a web post that explained the solution to this problem. I am pretty dumbfounded that the solution was so hard to find and that Windows makes this problem so hard to solve. I guess that Macs are still better than PC's!

Here's the solution:
Go to the "manage audio devices window" in the Control Panel (or right-click on the "sound" icon in system tray). On an empty or blank part of the window, right-click and check the box which comes up saying show disabled devices. On my laptop, an option to enable my Panasonic TV appeared, and I had to enable it to allow sound to go to it again.

This worked on Windows 7. For more information on how to do this in Vista, which is very similar:

I hope that this helps some folks.