Sunday, December 30, 2012

Eureka AirSpeed Vacuum is a Great Buy

Eureka AirSpeed Vacuum is a Great Buy Compared to the Dyson Animal Vacuum

Hey, when I am not underwater, I have to do housework once in a while just like any other guy with a wife or girlfriend!  So here goes:

I bought one of these Eureka AirSpeed Vacuums on Woot for $75. This vacuum cleaner is awesome. The suction is very powerful and this works great on bare floors or deep carpet. We have two Labrador retrievers, so sucking up their fur is important, and this vacuum sucks up just about all of their hair even in the deep carpet.

This vacuum also includes accessories that can attach to the hose so that you can clean things like the inside of your car. Again, this is important since we have dogs and need to clean out small spaces in our cars. The Eureka has an attachment used to clean stairs, which is handheld, about 4 inches wide, and has brushes that spin when attached. This spinning brush roll works great to get fur out of our car, in tight spaces. The Eureka also has (which I would think would be standard), a way to store the power cord just by touching a button and feeding the cord into a hidden spool inside the machine.

I also have a Dyson Animal vacuum cleaner (purchased for $300 on woot). The Dyson has about the same suction, but it does not have a way to store the power cord on a spool. Setting up the Dyson so I can clean my car involves taking a bunch of parts together. It's always a hassle because of the weird design, where I have to figure out the design all over again every time. After vacuuming, putting the Dyson back together for storage is also a hassle, as I have to laboriously put the parts back together. Having to manually put the cord back on the vacuum is especially irritating. Finally, the brush roll on the Dyson Animal is useless!  I can clean my car with the Dyson using another attachment, which works pretty well. 

I'd buy the Eureka over the Dyson again in a heartbeat. The Eureka seems to be as well made, and it performs better than the Dyson. Finally, the Eureka is only 25% of the price of the Dyson! Why buy a Dyson?  I give credit to Dyson for re-inventing the vacuum cleaner, but I don't understand why they are so much more expensive than other machines.  Maybe patent law has not protected Dyson's innovations enough, but I will leave that to the marketplace.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Solving a Problem: Portable Tire Inflators Blowing Car Fuses

OK, this post is a bit off-topic, but here goes.  Hopefully this might help out folks who have had the same problem.

I have bought about four different tire inflators over the years--$50 Slime and Vi-Air inflators, and a $20 Campbell-Hausfield inflator. 

I bought the more expensive Slime and Vi-air inflators, hoping to buy more durable ones that would last a long time and were of better quality than the cheap ones I've had in the past.  Both of these inflators works well but they both blow the fuses of all my cars -- a 2006 Ford E-150 van, Dodge Caravan, and Honda Odyssey.  The thing that I don't understand is that there is a fuse in the power cord of the inflator.  Theoretically this fuse should blow before the ones in my car (which are rated at 20 amps!), but the Vi-Air and Slime inflators both blow the fuses in my cars, and it is a hassle to replace the fuses. 

 I solved this problem by buying an adapter that I can clamp  directly to my car battery.  This adapter has a cigarette lighter female socket on the other end, so it supplies power directly from my car battery to the tire inflator.  I have had no problems with blown fuses, whether in the car or in the inflator, since using the car battery directly.  


 I have a cheaper Campbell-Hausfield inflator that is much louder and slower to inflate, but it has never blown a fuse in my car.  
 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Notes on Polecams

> I am sorry to bother you but I have a task at work it reminded me of a
> camera setup you used to shoot beneath the ice. You showed video at Sea
> Space in Houston TX that you shot from above the ice sort of with a pole
> cam?
>
> I need an underwater camera with a cabled above water video display.
>
> Any idea where to buy one?
>
> Thanks
>
> Bill


Hi Bill:

Are you shooting video or stills? 

I shot my polecam stuff in Antarctica with a huge HDCAM camera, the Sony HDCAM F900.  I had a standard Sony viewfinder taken apart and put in cylindrical, waterproof tube so that I could shoot the HDCAM with the monitor on the top of the housing.  It was attached to the housing with a short 30-pin Impulse cable.  I then bought a longer Impulse cable (at a cost of about $1500 just for the cable) that let me take that usual viewfinder and view it from six feet away.  I mounted the HDCAM housing on a PVC pole with a wood broomstick inside for stiffness. 

But that was 12 years ago. 

Today, I'd use a DSLR in a housing like the Canon 7D and Nauticam DP-4 monitor housing.   I have a review of the Nauticam monitor at:

http://norbertwu.blogspot.com/2012_02_01_archive.html

All you'd need to do is set the video rolling and get a cable from the monitor to the housing that is long enough.  Taking stills would be a bit more work. 


I also see that  Seacam have a polecam:
http://www.seacamusa.com/polecam-instructions.shtml

I have found that taking video is easier than taking good stills with a polecam.  And keeping your gear as simple as possible is also important.  For a lot of big subjects, you may not even need a monitor to see exactly what the camera sees -- just put a video camera and wide lens in the water, and you will soon be be to guesstimate the view that you are capturing. 





I hope that this helps. 
Best,
Norb

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Thumbs down to Melbourne, Australia, Airport

Thumbs down to Melbourne, Australia, airport --

I loved traveling around the Melbourne, Victoria, Australia area.  Highlights included driving The Great Ocean Road and visiting the national parks The Grampians and Great Fern Park.  The Melbourne area itself is huge and congested; kind of like driving through the San Francisco Bay Area.  Wonderful place. 

However, traveling through the Melbourne Airport was a pain in the butt, worse than just about every other airport I've been through in the past 20 years of traveling.  


Surprisingly this progressive city's international and domestic airport does not offer free public wifi!  Most people traveling internationally will need wifi in order to check emails or notices about late flights, etc.   
 
The lines through security and passport control were horrific (LAX and Miami are the only ones worse in my memory), and security was stricter than any other place I've traveled through.   I had to wait about an hour to get through passport control and through security. 

Airport security confiscated a set of small tools that every other airport has allowed.  I particularly liked the provincial comment by one security agent.  I told her that I had traveled recently through Sydney Airport with the same small tools that she was confiscating.  She snorted in derision and said “Sydney!”.  It was incredibly unprofessional and amusing at the same time to hear out loud the competition between these two great cities of Australia.  

Oh, and they were very confusing about when you needed to show your passport or not, and would yell at you if you did or did not have your passport immediately handy.  When are airports (including domestic US airports) going to come up with a consistent set of rules as to whether you need to carry your ID and boarding pass through all of security, or not?  Some airports scream at you if you start walking through the metal detector with a boarding pass in your had.  Other airports require you to have a boarding pass.  And why do some airports make you show your boarding pass about twelve times.  Once or twice should be enough, particularly since boarding passes are so easily counterfeited.  

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Q and A: compressing video for email and the web

Here’s a question and answer about compressing video for email and the web:


> Norb:
>
> You sent a shot of a jawfish with eggs last month.  What compression settings did you 
>  use?  I thought it looked pretty good and it downloaded almost immediately.


Answer:

Have you used MPEG Streamclip?  I find it awesome and simple, but not a highly talked about program for some reason.

I trimmed the jawfish shot in MPEG Streamclip, then put it through FCP Color Correction, then converted the resulting Quicktime HD file using MPEG Streamclip to .mp4 file.

You know you can cmd-I (Get Info) on a video file, and it will pull up an info window?  I attach the info window for the file I sent you.  I had MPEG Streamclip convert the 1080p file from FCP to 640 x 360 mpeg-4.


I attach a screengrab of the settings from MPEG Streamclip.  I chose FILE-->EXPORT TO MPEG-4, then in the resulting window chose Other (640 x 360 -- this was not a choice originally, and that was it.  The Frame Size choices may have been different and I believe change according to what you are working on.  I just dragged the finished video into the program as an example and I believe it filled in the 640 x 360 fields, which were not there before.

I hope that this helps.  
 
Norb

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Choosing the Best Bags for Air Travel: Tips to Help Reduce Excess Baggage Fees When Traveling




I traveled through Australia and Indonesia back in February for an underwater shoot.  I had so much fun (and the fare from Australia to Bali/Jakarta was so inexpensive), that I decided to repeat the trip with my old friend, Andy Day, as a working vacation.  Andy and I have been friends since the second grade, and we grew up hunting snakes in the woods of Atlanta, Georgia.  We’ve since traveled to numerous places in pursuit of wildlife photographs.  I am the underwater and photography expert, and Andy is a bird and reptile expert, so he shows me things in the topside world that I would never otherwise see or know about. 

One of my biggest concerns when traveling overseas is how much I will be charged for my baggage.  As an underwater photographer, I travel with a lot of gear.  I brought an absolute minimum of gear on this trip, but it still amounted to three large bags at 50 pounds each.  I attach a list at the end of this blog that describes what I put in my bags. 

Traveling by airline in Australia is always especially worrisome, since airlines there, especially Qantas, are legendary for their strict baggage policies, and the exorbitant rates that they charge for excess baggage. 




I’ll describe some of the tips I’ve learned over the years to keep my baggage charges to a minimum. 

1.  Use an airline-affiliated credit card that gives you free bags. 
I applied for a Continental Airlines Presidential Plus Mastercard for the first time this year.  This card has since been replaced by the United MileagePlus Club Card.  Both of these credit cards offer cardholders two free checked bags for free.  They also give the cardholder membership in United’s airport clubs, which is a $475 value.  I paid the annual fee of $395 for this card, the first time I’ve ever decided to pay so much for a card.  Chase does offer another United card that costs only $95 per year and gives one checked bag for free. 

This card offers good value for the $395 fee, although I will be evaluating the fee each year.  Beyond the free checked bags and United Club access, the card does not charge foreign transaction fees.  This means that if I charge a meal or hotel room on the card in Australia, I won’t get hit with the 2% to 3% foreign transaction fee that other credit cards apply to purchases.  This can be a pretty big savings also.  I use this card (along with a no-annual-fee Capital One credit card that also does not charge foreign transaction fees) exclusively when traveling outside of the US. 

Many other airlines, such as American, have partnered with credit card companies to offer credit cards with similar benefits.  I also have a Citibank credit card that gives me one free bag on American Airlines, and has a $95 annual fee that was waived for my first year.  Often, credit card companies will waive or discount annual fees for good customers who ask. 

2.  Try to attain “elite status” on a preferred airline. 
United Airlines, which I prefer to use for most travel, allows its “elite flyers”-- those customers who fly over 25,000 miles per year on United and its partner airlines, to check in two bags at 50 pounds for free on international flights.  I would also get these two bags for free since I carry the Continental Presidential Plus credit card.  Almost every airline has programs for loyal travelers that give a host of perks when a customer flies over a certain threshold per year.  Among those perks are free checked bags. 


3.  Research what luggage best meets your needs and is also lightweight and flexible. 
When I started out as an underwater photographer, I was always allowed two bags at 70 pounds for free, when traveling internationally.  Now, the standard is two bags at 50 pound for free for international travel, with a charge for the third bag.  No matter how much I try, I still have about 140 pounds of gear including the weight of the bags themselves. 



What’s the solution?  I use flexible packing.  For my two main bags, I use Eagle Creek ORV Super Trunks, which are rolling duffel bags.  These bags carry an enormous amount of gear (their capacity is about 8500 cubic inches) and weigh only 12 to 13 pounds.  These bags have a main compartment for my diving gear and things like clothes, wetsuits, tripods, and smaller cases containing underwater housings and camera gear.  They have three smaller pockets on top which I use to store receipts, sandals, socks, insect repellant, sunscreen, and other smaller items that I may need to get at frequently. 

I’ll pack my two Eagle Creek rolling duffels to the 50 pound limit, then bring fairly lightweight items like a rain jacket, towels, a Scottevest vest, and sweatpants in a separate large duffel bag (no wheels or structure to this bag).  Many times, when I arrive at an airport, the airline agent will be pleased to see that I have packed two bags right at the 50-pound limit, and that I am knowledgeable and polite about the airline’s baggage policies.  Since I have both a credit card allowing me two bags, and I am also an elite member of the airline, the agent will more often that not let me check this duffel bag at no charge. 

If, however, the agent is a stickler and wishes to charge me for this third bag, then I have the following plan if the excess baggage fee is outrageous.  I’ve never had to do this, but it’s my last option.  I will take out the Scottevest vest, which has 24 hidden pockets.  I’ll repack quickly right at the ticket counter, taking out what small, heavy items (such as dive regulators, camera bodies, lenses) I can from the Eagle Creek rolling duffels and putting them in the vest or my carry-on bags (more on these bags in a minute).  Because the duffel is just a bag with no hard sides or wheels, I can completely empty this bag, then stuff it and all its contents into my two big rolling duffels, while placing small, dense items in my carry-on luggage or Scottevest. 

Please note that you should NOT try to carry on any tools, pocketknives, too many batteries, or any items that could be construed or used as a weapon, like a tripod. 


4.  Chooose Carry-on Baggage That Can Carry a Lot of Gear. 

I’ve probably spent more time researching the best carryon bags for my needs than anything else.  I’ve settled on several products from Lowepro that are superbly designed for carrying my gear on the plane.  I’ve used these bags from Lowepro to decrease my excess baggage costs and to travel efficiently.  Here’s a list of what I carry on the plane:

Lowepro Pro Roller Lite 250AW (Black): my primary wheeled carry-on bag.  

Lowepro Magnum 200 AW: a shoulder bag that has a luggage sleeve, allowing it to be carried easily and efficiently on top of the Pro Roller Lite. 
Lowepro Vertex 300AW camera backpack, to replace the backpack that I normally carry for my errands around town. 






A.  Lowepro Pro Roller Lite 250 AW
I’ve previously written about the Lowepro Pro Roller Lite 250 AW, which has become my primary and favorite wheeled carry-on bag.  The Pro Roller Lite 250 AW is a rolling case that contains Lowepro’s usual fabulous set of padded dividers, which let you organize, pad, and separate all your gear. Unlike earlier Pro Rollers, this model has the padded dividers within the case itself, rather than in a separate bag that fits within the rolling case. I prefer this, as space is at an absolute premium when traveling by air today. I used the dividers to separate, pad, and divide my larger and heavier items. 

You can see my review here:

http://norbertwu.blogspot.com/2012/03/review-of-lowepro-pro-roller-lite-250.html


 
I love the thoughtful and extremely convenient touches that Lowepro puts into its products.  For instance, the Pro Roller Lite 250 AW has a small plastic “bucket” on the bottom of the bag.  This makes picking up the case very easy and convenient.  I also love the elastic pocket on the top flap of the roller, which allows me to quickly access and store a laptop, ipad, magazines, even thick books. 



B.  Magnum 200 AW shoulder bag.
This bag is a great solution to the problems I’ve encountered with airline travel.  First, it is a perfect size for an outdoor and wildlife photographer --big enough to carry a completely topside camera kit -- camera body along with a wide zoom, telephoto zoom, and a flash unit.  It can carry all other kinds of things as well, since it has Lowepro’s famous dividing system and numerous pockets. 

One of the best features of this bag is the luggage or trolley sleeve on the back.  This sleeve allows the bag to fit snugly right over the handles of the Lowepro Pro Rollers and many other rolling carts.  Because both bags are black and look alike,, airline attendants have never bothered me about carrying on an extra bag (passengers normally are only allowed one carryon and one backpack or purse).  Once I am on location, this bag is perfect for having a topside camera kit ready to go, or fitted out for something else. 




C.  Vertex 300AW backpack:
I chose the Vertex 300AW to replace the backpack that I normally carry for my errands around town and have used for air travel in the past.  My normal backpack, although large, is not anywhere near as large as the Vertex 300AW, which is a bag made to carry a camera with lenses and accessories, along with a 17" notebook computer. 

The advantages of the Vertex 300AW is that it, too, contains Lowepro’s custom-divider solution.  I carried camera gear, hard drives, and even swimming trunks (I use running shorts) and a complete change of clothing in this capacious backpack.  I was able to put in my usual notebook of papers along with my MacBook Pro laptop in the laptop compartment.  The Vertex also has two nice “side” pockets on the front, which I used to put in a few toiletries like a toothbrush. 

There are other camera backpacks like the Vertex 300AW out there.  However, for the light weight and sturdy construction, no other backpack comes close.  The Vertex 300AW has a professional harness system that took all the weight off my shoulders, unlike the flimsy and thin straps that some other backpacks feature.  It was a pleasure to wear, especially on those long hikes through an airport from the departure gate to customs and beyond, before airports provide carts.  Why ARE all those hikes over 2 miles? 

The only disadvantage of the Vertex 300AW is that it is too high to fit underneath an airline seat.  Since I often come onto flights swaddled with many bags, it is important that I board the plane early, before all the overhead compartments are taken.  Sorry, that’s life as a photographer.  I do wish that the Vertex had a third and larger pocket after the laptop pocket, as having a third and larger pocket would let me store things like guidebooks and an iPad.  The present laptop compartment is just wide enough for a laptop and can fit very little more.  Having just one more, thicker pocket would make this backpack into a real all-around traveling and photography pack. 




Here’s a fairly complete list of what I put in my carry-on bags:

In my Pro Roller and Vertex 300:

Tickets
Passport
Visas
Cash (in small bills)
American and United frequent flyer cards

MacBook Pro laptop computer with AC power supply
VGA and HDMI adapters for MacBook Pro for presentations
Two-prong (Panasonic-type) AC power cord

Cell phone and charger
Portable hard drives
Memory cards in Lowepro card case
Media or PC card reader with USB2.0 cord
Small inverter for using computer on airplanes and in cars
two mesh pocket cases containing all kinds of computer cables
Cradlepoint wifi router and USB data modem
Garmin GPS loaded with maps for places I am traveling to

one topside camera body (currently Canon 7D or Nikon D800)
wide-angle zoom lens
telephoto zoom lens

set of shorts, swimming trunks, light long pants, and T-shirt (if stranded)
shaving kit with toothbrush, etc in case I am stranded
swim goggles
Ear plugs
eardrops to ward off ear infections
medicine for seasickness
large and small ziploc bags
Pepperidge Farm Geneva cookies or Snickers bars in case plane is stuck for hours

Postcards to give to "grease the wheels" at airline counters
Business cards
Sunglasses
Novels
 ipad loaded with e-books
 airline baggage policies to challenge excess baggage charges

small flashlight
underwater video light heads

If forced to, I will carry denser, heavy items like Scuba dive gauges and underwater photo gear, but I try to remember NOT to hand-carry anything sharp, any batteries or items that could be rejected (and therefore lost for the trip) by airport security.



Thursday, September 20, 2012

Booking.com is a great site for booking hotels worldwide


 I’ve been traveling and shooting wildlife and scenery in Victoria, Australia.  We (my friend from grade school whom I used to hunt snakes with, Andy Day and I) flew into Melbourne, the second largest city in Australia.  Melbourne is a big city, population 4.1 million. 

I’ll be posting photos from this shoot shortly, but first, I’d like to give a big kudos to the website booking.com.  I use this site to book hotels where I am traveling, and it is a good one.  It represents a wide range of hotels and offers reviews from people who have booked accommodations on its site.  ONLY customers of a particular hotel can leave reviews, so this means that the reviews are more “real” than other sites. 

The reviews are supposedly never edited.  They do need approval by booking.com staff (or robots); and you have to wait for booking.com to send you a link by email before you can leave a review.  I’ve left a few reviews now on booking.com; and they have not been edited or filtered out, something which disturbs me greatly about the website yelp.com. 

The best thing about booking.com’s site is the map.  If you are in a huge city like Melbourne, but just want to see all the hotels in your location, then you can simply point to your location on their map and see all the available hotels.  I wish that other websites had this very useful mapping feature. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Paint on Ford models around 2006 peels off!! No easy fix!

This is an alert to other Ford customers.  I did not learn this until recently and am posting this in case other Ford customers need information. 

 I have a 2006 Ford E-150 van.  The van's paint is Ext PNT L2 Ford true blue.  I bought the van used in 2008 with 18,000 miles on it.  I have 25,000 miles on it now. 


I noticed paint peeling off the channel between the roof and side about two years ago.  I believe that water had collected in this channel before I bought the van.  Now this area is rusting.  There are several areas where paint is flaking away on both sides of the roof. 

I took the van into a collision repair facility, and the technician told me that this paint problem was a problem with many Ford models in 2006 and some other years.  He showed me other areas where the paint is peeling off -- under the dash, and starting on my side panels, where rock chips take off some paint.  

There is no solution offered by Ford that I know of.  The technician told me that Ford never issued a recall for this problem, and that they fixed this problem only if customers brought this to their attention within the warranty period.  


This is not a problems that can be fixed easily.  To fix my current problems, where there is rust, would cost $1500 to $2500.  The techniciam told me that the best solution will be to sell the van quickly before all the paint peels off!  A cheap but inadequate fix would be to cover the rock chips with clear nail polish.  Paint from a rattle can would make the van look crappy and would not solve the rust problem. 

I’ve had numerous cars in my 51 years of life.  No other vehicle has had a problem this severe or glaring.  I can also say that this Ford van has the same design as our family had in our RV back in the 1970s, almost nothing has changed.  The back seat is so long and close to the passenger seat that is is difficult for passengers to get in the back.  My dogs have an extremely hard time trying to squeeze between the passenger seat and the back seat too. 

Avoid Ford! 

HP Envy Sleekbook 4t1000 laptops may have issues with the hard drive overheating



I bought a laptop from HP (HP Envy Sleekbook 4t1000) and received it on June 4, 2012.  The laptop warned me of “imminent drive failure” after three weeks of use.  The hard drive began making clicking noises also.  I contacted HP’s customer service through their chat service on June 26, 2012.   The chat person ended up telling me that I had not given them a correct model number and serial number, and to check my BIOS for the correct numbers.  I did so, gave them to him (they were the same model numbers on the invoice and what I gave him initially).  He kept repeating that he could not help me since I did not have the correct model number and serial number. 



I ended up having to deal with a case manager in the escalation department (who contacted me after the chat person could not help), and the process has been infinitely frustrating and convoluted. HP continued to state that I supplied the wrong serial number and model number for the laptop that I bought from then just a month ago. It turns out that the model number on their invoice and in their BIOS is different from the model number on the bottom of the laptop.  

The laptop is finally at HP for repair after two weeks of discussion; I've sent the same proof of purchase, photos of the serial number and model number, photos of the warning screens, and description of the problem over a dozen times. We'll see if this story has a happy ending.  I  have a feeling that these HP laptops contain an inherent design flaw where the hard drive is overheating.  

Finally, finally!  When will companies learn that most of us out here cannot and do not answer our phones, and they need to have two-way communications with their customers via email?  If I contact a company to either buy a product or with a problem, more often than not, the company has a random person communicate with me, but I am never able to reach that person, or anyone else at the company, directly – either by email or phone.  Often a customer service manager trying to solve the problem will call me up and leave a message – but I am completely unable to reach that person again when I call back!  Agents from the company will email me and ask for more information – but then the email will state: DO NOT REPLY TO THIS EMAIL!!! 

HP’s lack of understanding of the issues of the disabled (I am hearing-disabled) was incredibly frustrating.  

I finally received the repaired laptop on July 17, 2012.   In two months, I've only had use of the laptop for about 30 days.  

 I am extremely disappointed with HP's response to this matter.  They requested the same information from me several times.  I spent more than 20 hours on chats, emails, and on the phone with four different people.  A process that would take 30 minutes to resolve with a good company like Apple or Amazon has taken 20 hours of my life with HP.  I had to re-start my explanation of the problem with four different people who kept transferring me to other people.

I was perhaps most disappointed by HP’s social media person, who responded to a review I posted on Amazon about the product – but who ultimately proved to be a do-nothing person that just bumped me up the ladder to another person (perhaps, I was never contacted by this “upper level”).  It seems that HP is not committed to having their social media people solve problems.  Instead, the social media (executive customer relations) people seem to reply to things like Amazon reviews solely so that the general public sees their replies and thinks that HP is on the ball.  It’s not the case, and it is deceptive on HP’s part.



It’s obvious that HP makes poor-quality products, and it is further obvious that HP’s customer service doesn’t have a clue.  When this happens, the customer suffers and has to endure endless waits, incompetence, and insanely inefficient handling of his problem. Customers should not have to tolerate spending hours on the phone and on email or chat with a company that has terrible customer service. 



Buyer beware; HP Envy Sleekbook 4t1000 laptops may have issues with the hard drive overheating. 




Monday, July 9, 2012

Customer Service Hell with HP (Hewlett Packard): "Otherwise, we will forward this case to our higher authority and do the needful."



My recent most relaxing experience with HP customer support.




[Tuesday, June 26, 2012 11:21 AM] -- Norbert Wu says:
I would greatly prefer that all this be handled by email. I am at our summer house and my cell phone does not work out here. It's extremely frustrating. Email and chat will work fine. Even text messaging to my cell will work. Phone calls will not work.

[Tuesday, June 26, 2012 11:24 AM] -- AVIK P says:
Norbert, I can understand your concern but Phone is the only contact channel for any hardware parts replacement usually, the Dispatch team will send a voice mail as a follow-up.

[Tuesday, June 26, 2012 11:24 AM] -- Norbert Wu says:
That's unacceptable. I cannot get phone calls where I am. I can get emails and text messages. I cannot get voice phone calls.

[Tuesday, June 26, 2012 11:24 AM] -- AVIK P says:
Please give me a any other alternative valid call-back number (if you have any) and a preferable time

[Tuesday, June 26, 2012 11:25 AM] -- Norbert Wu says:
I have no way to get phone calls!!!! I can possibly call someone back if they send an email but most of the time this results in phone tag because I cannot reach someone directly when I call in using VoIP.

[Tuesday, June 26, 2012 11:26 AM] -- AVIK P says:
Well, if you allow me then I can take this computer in for complete hardware diagnostic check and the entire repair process
would take approximately 7-9 business days (including shipping). Is that okay with you?
[Tuesday, June 26, 2012 11:28 AM] -- Norbert Wu says:
That's fine. I am extremely hard-of-hearing and I am shocked that HP does not have methods in place to work with the disabled. I do hope that HP realizes what an inconvenience this is and will expedite the repair. I am familiar with shipping practices and hope HP can send me prepaid shipping labels by email as most good companies do these days.

[Tuesday, June 26, 2012 11:29 AM] -- AVIK P says:
Please accept my sincere apology for any inconvenience but Your business is important to us and you are our most valuable customer. Please do not worry, we will take this issue up on priority and ensure that you receive a quality service from us.


But later he emails: (note the "Note: Please do not reply to this email at the bottom of his email.")

-------- Original Message --------

Subject:     E-mail follow up from HP total care (Chat Support)
Date:     Tue, 26 Jun 2012 23:44:51 +0000 (UTC)
From:     LAPTOP_SUPPORT_EN@MAIL.SUPPORT.HP.C

To:    

Dear Norbert ,

Hewlett-Packard is pleased to provide the following documentation via
e-mail.

I have tried sever times to create an order for this computer but my
system is telling me that the following details are invalid. We
apologize for the inconvenience.

Product number : A9G89AV
Serial number: CND221RDVC
Product details : HP ENVY Sleekbook CTO 4t-1000 Notebook
Service ticket number : 8060112427

I'm requesting you to check the BIOS of your computer and get back to us
with the valid product + serial number of this computer once again, so
that we will proceed with the next step immediately. Otherwise, we need
to forward this case to our higher authority, so that this issue will be
taken care of.

In order to get the BIOS screen, you need to restart the computer ->
Restart it and at the same time keep tapping on the F10 key until and
unless the bios screen will appear on the display.

When the BIOS screen will appear, check the main screen of BIOS and you
will get the exact product and serial number of your computer there on
the display.

If you face any problem, please get back to us with the results and we
will be glad to assist you further.

You can contact us by visiting the following Website.

http://welcome.hp.com/country/us/en/contact/chat_1.html

We are available 24hrs a day, 7 days a week to serve you.

Note: Please do not reply to this email.

Thank you for contacting HP,

Avik

Your Customer Care Representative



In another email, he wrote:
Otherwise, we will forward this case to our higher authority and do the needful.




-------- Original Message --------
Subject:     E-mail follow up from HP total care (Chat Support)
Date:     Tue, 26 Jun 2012 20:22:06 +0000 (UTC)
From:     LAPTOP_SUPPORT_EN@MAIL.SUPPORT.HP.C

To:    x

Dear Norbert ,

Hewlett-Packard is pleased to provide the following documentation via
e-mail.

I tried to create an order for the following product:

Product number : A9G89AV
Serial number: xxx
Product details : HP ENVY Sleekbook CTO 4t-1000 Notebook
Service ticket number : xx

but unable to proceed with that because of technical problem...My system
was capturing the above data as an invalid model and serial number.

I'm requesting you to check the BIOS of your computer and get back to us
with the vaild product and serial number of this computer, so that we
can try to create this order once again. Otherwise, we will forward this
case to our higher authority and do the needful.

Thank you for contacting HP,

Avik

Your Customer Care Representative



********
To my readers of this blog who have come this far:

Oh, and by the way, I've attached a photo of the bottom of my laptop, showing the model number of:
Product number : A9G61AV

I've also attached the invoice and BIOS screen showing the laptop has a different model number of:
Product number : A9G89AV



Is it really my fault that HP has f***ed-up records?  Do their customers need to suffer for this and waste time explaining this situation to their "support" guys in India or Pakistan, or Kazakhstan?  Does HP realize that the model number in the BIOS is DIFFERENT from the model number printed on the bottom of the laptop?


Update 7-24-12:
I finally received the repaired laptop on July 17, 2012.  I first alerted HP of the problem on June 26, 2012.  I received the brand new laptop on June 4, 2012.  In two months, I've only had use of the laptop for about 30 days.  

Here's a summary.  
I bought a laptop from HP (HP Envy Sleekbook 4t1000).  The laptop warned me of “imminent drive failure” after three weeks of use.  The hard drive began making clicking noises also.  I contacted HP’s customer service through their chat service.   The chat person ended up telling me that I had not given them a correct model number and serial number, and to check my BIOS for the correct numbers.  I did so, gave them to him (they were the same model numbers on the invoice and what I gave him initially).  He kept repeating that he could not help me since I did not have the correct model number and serial number. 
 
I ended up having to deal with a case manager in the escalation department (who contacted me after the chat person could not help), and the process has been infinitely frustrating and convoluted. HP continued to state that I supplied the wrong serial number and model number for the laptop that I bought from then just a month ago. It turns out that the model number on their invoice and in their BIOS is different from the model number on the bottom of the laptop.  

The laptop is finally at HP for repair after two weeks of discussion; I've sent the same proof of purchase, photos of the serial number and model number, photos of the warning screens, and description of the problem over a dozen times. We'll see if this story has a happy ending.  I  have a feeling that these HP laptops contain an inherent design flaw where the hard drive is overheating.  

Finally, finally!  When will companies learn that most of us out here cannot and do not answer our phones, and they need to have two-way communications with their customers via email?  If I contact a company to either buy a product or with a problem, more often than not, the company has a random person communicate with me, but I am never able to reach that person, or anyone else at the company, directly – either by email or phone.  Often a customer service manager trying to solve the problem will call me up and leave a message – but I am completely unable to reach that person again when I call back!  Agents from the company will email me and ask for more information – but then the email will state: DO NOT REPLY TO THIS EMAIL!!! 

HP’s lack of understanding of the issues of the disabled (I am hearing-disabled) was incredibly frustrating. 
 I am extremely disappointed with HP's response to this matter.  They requested the same information from me several times.  I spent more than 20 hours on chats, emails, and on the phone with four different people.  A process that would take 30 minutes to resolve with a good company like Apple or Amazon has taken 20 hours of my life with HP.  I had to re-start my explanation of the problem with four different people who kept transferring me to other people.

I was perhaps most disappointed by HP’s social media person, who responded to a review I posted on Amazon about the product – but who ultimately proved to be a do-nothing person that just bumped me up the ladder to another person (perhaps, I was never contacted by this “upper level”).  It seems that HP is not committed to having their social media people solve problems.  Instead, the social media (executive customer relations) people seem to reply to things like Amazon reviews solely so that the general public sees their replies and thinks that HP is on the ball.  It’s not the case, and it is deceptive on HP’s part.

It’s obvious that HP makes poor-quality products, and it is further obvious that HP’s customer service doesn’t have a clue.  When this happens, the customer suffers and has to endure endless waits, incompetence, and insanely inefficient handling of his problem. Customers should not have to tolerate spending hours on the phone and on email or chat with a company that has terrible customer service. 


Buyer beware; HP Envy Sleekbook 4t1000 laptops may have issues with the hard drive overheating. 





Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Great Kayak Deal

I have spent quite a bit of time in the past weeks researching the best
kayak to buy.  I wanted something that was stable, possibly could be used
for photos, tracked well, and was a cut above a really cheap one.
Some quality to it, and for beginning to intermediate kayakers.  I decided on the models below, and as it turns out, one is on sale starting today.  

The sale on the good one starts TODAY.  You can order online and they will
deliver to a store near you.  West Marine branded Pompano 120 for $425, sit-
on-top angler kayak, terrific reviews.  This is a rebranded Wilderness Systems 2008
Tarpon 120 which sold for $900 and up.  Also being sold as a Perception Pescador 120, which you can find on Amazon for $550.  The Pescador retails for $599.  Go for the 12-foot model, not the 10-footer.  
 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Review of Atlantis MK1 LED Video Lights: With an Aside on Shooting Video and Stills in Shallow Water


The professional underwater filmmaker’s ideal lights for years have been as follows: We have all been waiting for portable lights that we can travel with, that are battery operated rather than requiring a cable and AC power, and have a powerful, wide beam.  The light must be powerful enough to match what we can do with still photography and underwater flash units in bright, shallow tropical water -- bring out the colors and drown out the sunlight when needed.  They are ideally small enough to mount easily on our housings using existing and familiar hardware like Nauticam and ULCS arms.


I recently had the chance to dive with and test the new Atlantis MK1 LED video lights.  They are pretty close to everything I describe above. 

Here’s what the manufacturer says about the lights:
The Atlantis MK1's are a completely self contained system outputting over 4400 lumens of even daylight balanced (5000K) light that burns for over an hour on full, five hours on low and can recharge in an hour flat. Each LED has a custom CNC turned reflector cone and the lens itself is a solid pour of optical epoxy. This means there are no seals to fail or glass to break. The lens is much more durable and scratch resistant then plastic. The controls are an oversized dial with four positions (off-lo-med-hi) and a simple status indicator on the rear of the lights so they are easy to access regardless of how funky your arms get. For traveling, the complete kit (2 lights, charger, case) weighs in at under 9 pounds and fits easily into a carry-on.

I found the lights to be easy to use and mount using my existing arm system (a combination of Nauticam and ULCS arms), to put out a bright, wide beam of light; and to be well-balanced and just slightly negative underwater (perfect – you don’t want $5000 light heads floating off!) with their closed-cell foam padding around the lights.

For the past five months, I’ve been carrying a pair of Light & Motion Sola 2000 lights with me, which are small enough not to add significantly to my luggage weight or to my gear load while diving.  I set up these lights on a chair facing a white wall, and I then took photos of the wall while the highest setting from the Sola 2000 lights lighted it.  The resulting images show the circle of light thrown out by the Sola 2000s, which is a nice diffuse light that has an abrupt transition from light to no light.  The color of the light is white tending toward a slight cool cast. 

I then placed the Atlantis lights at the same position and at full power, and took photographs using the same settings.  The Atlantis lights seem to be just a bit brighter than the output of the Sola 2000, with a slightly warmer tone.  The beam angle is much wider and does not cut off abruptly like the Solas do, but there is a bit of falloff from the center (which I cannot imagine will be a problem when shooting underwater). 

These Atlantis lights, with their powerful, wide beam, are very close to the ideal that we underwater filmmakers have been seeking for years.  They are bright and spread a wide beam.  They are also much bigger than the Sola 2000s, but still quite usable and light enough to carry in luggage.

 Small lights with narrow beams that filmmakers can use to shoot video have been around for a while (Light & Motion’s HID lights come to mind) but finding portable lights that can put out a great deal of light over a wide beam angle, which allows lighting wide scenes, is a filmmaker’s dream.  These larger lights can be used for wide angle shooting or macro.


I tested the lights on macro subjects while diving in shallow water near the Singer Island Bridge in West Palm Beach, Florida.  Ironically, shooting macro subjects in very shallow water is one of the toughest conditions for an underwater photographer.  Sunlight dappling from the surface wreaks havoc with video.  It overpowers most lights and flash units, leaving your still photographs and videos washed out and less colorful than they should be.

When shooting still images in such conditions, the underwater photographer can overpower ambient light by using a strobe that has powerful output settings, like the Ikelite DS-160 strobes.  I attach a still image of a striated anglerfish where the ambient light has been overpowered by the use of underwater flash units.  The corresponding video clip of this same subject, where I used two Sola 2000 lights about 1 foot from the subject, shows the dappling effect of sunlight in shallow water.  The video image is washed out, and the flicker caused by dappling sunlight from the surface is annoying, rendering the video clip almost useless. 

By varying the intensity of a high-powered flash unit, the photographer can cause the background to go black, or step the power of the flash unit down incrementally to allow a bit of ambient light in the background.  One should avoid allowing the flash power to go so low as to allow the ambient light to match or overpower the flash's effect, as this will mean light traveling from the surface will dominate the exposure, thus causing a washed out image.  Again, being able to step down a flash unit's intensity gradually over a wide range is essential to creating the best result, so tools like the venerable Ikelite DS-160 flash units are valuable in this and most other situations. 

When shooting video, the problem of ambient light ruining a shot is magnified to the point where I almost never try filming in shallow water when the sun is out.  I've filmed countless wonderful macro scenes where the flicker caused by sunlight at the surface ruins the shot.  The only solutions are to try to block the dappling sunlight from the surface (perhaps with a black card held over the subject) or to use video lights that are powerful enough to overpower the ambient light. 

video

I found that the Light & Motion Sola 2000 lights were small enough so that I could position them very close to macro subjects, but they still did not allow me to overpower the ambient light sufficiently.  I tried the Atlantis lights on the same scorpionfish just a few minutes later, and I had the same result.  Neither of these lights allowed me to overpower the ambient light sufficiently. 


I attach two video clips of a scorpionfish shot at 9 feet below the surface.  These clips were taken straight from a Canon 7D and then trimmed to web proportions and size using MPEG Streamclip.  No color correction whatsoever was made on these clips. 

The first clip shows a scorpionfish lit by two Sola 2000 lights, about 1 foot away.  The lights have little effect.  Midway through this clip, I show the Sola light in the frame.  A couple of seconds later, the video shows the scorpionfish being lit by a Sola held just a few inches away.  The scorpionfish’s red colors come out; the Sola clearly has an effect.  
video

The second clip shows the same scorpionfish being lit by two Atlantis lights.  The red color of the scorpionfish shows up a bit better. 
video

The Atlantis lights (and the Sola 2000 lights) will both work well in low ambient light conditions, such as deeper tropical waters, underneath kelp forests, and under the ice in polar regions.  Both lights will work well on macro subjects that are sufficiently deep (say 30 feet or deeper) so that dappling sunlight from the surface does not overpower them.  The small Sola 2000s are ideal for carrying around, almost as an afterthought, for still photographers using DSLRs who want to light the occasional macro subject for video but are using strobes for most of their shooting (of stills).  The larger Atlantis lights are arguably better suited for committed underwater video shooters who will appreciate their power and wide beam angle.

In other words, Atlantis Systems has come out with a great choice for underwater videographers, much like still photographers have had choices between small and large strobes for still imagery underwater.  If a still photographer wants a small form factor underwater, and he is committed to shooting macro subjects, then two small Ikelite DS-51 strobes would be perfect for him.  If he is committed to shooting wide-angle in bright tropical waters, then he is better off with the larger Ikelite Substrobe 200s or DS-160s with diffusers.  Larger strobes like the Substrobe 200 can always be used for macro shooting, but not the reverse (small strobes can’t always be used effectively in wide-angle shooting). 

These new Atlantis lights are tools for the video shooter, equivalent to the versatile but larger underwater flash units like the Ikelite D-160s and Substrobe 200s.  I’d equate the Sola 2000 lights, with their small size and narrower beam angles, to small flash units like the Ikelite DS-51s. 

I should mention that there are other options for lights in the marketplace other than the two video lights that I mention here, notably Light & Motion’s Sola 4000 line and Gates Underwater Housings’ Gates VL8 and VL24 LED Video Lights.  I have not had the opportunity to test these lights; perhaps they can be the subject for another review. 


I am thrilled to now have a choice in my underwater lighting for video.  I also eagerly await Atlantis Systems’ next model, which I hope will have the same wide beam angle and more power.  I’d also be interested in smaller lights that I could use as macro lights, but which are even more powerful than my Solas and the Atlantis MK1 lights. 



Thanks to Dan Bodenstein of Atlantis Light Systems for loaning the Atlantic MK1 LED video lights to test.  Thanks also to Ryan Canon and Reef Photo and Video in Fort Lauderdale for facilitating this loan, as well as all kinds of expert help with gear both in the past and for this shoot.  I also wish to thank The Admiral’s Club of Singer Island for offering a comfortable, convenient place to stay while diving in the area.  Lastly, thanks to my friend and colleagues Douglas and Emily Seifert and Captain Mike Walker for sharing and showing me around the West Palm Beach area.  All photographs and video are by Norbert Wu. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012



Oceanic Whitetip Shark Expedition, Led by Epic Diving, Cat Island, Bahamas, May 2012

I highly recommend this trip and this diving operator!

Hi folks:
I’ve posted a more complete version of this story along with many more photographs at my website:


 But here’s the text and a few photos.  I can’t make Blogger do what I want with the layout of the text and images, so it is frustrating.  





In May 2012, I journeyed to Cat Island in the Bahamas to dive with Epic Diving. The goal was to see and film oceanic whitetip sharks, one of the most beautiful sharks in the world.  Vincent and Debra Canabal of Epic Diving, along with their friend (and fellow underwater cinematographer) Joe Romeiro, run an intimate and professional operation to see and dive with oceanic whitetip sharks in the deep blue waters off Cat Island. 

Guests on these expeditions have the choice of staying at a nearby hotel, or together family-style in a luxurious vacation home on a cliff overlooking the ocean.  The five participants on this trip, my friends and renowned underwater filmmakers Howard and Michele Hall, Joseph Burkhart (an engineer from Wisconsin), and Briana Darcy (a precocious teenaged underwater photographer) all had the privilege of staying at this very comfortable residence, which normally serves as the vacation home of a doctor.  These photos show the back deck of the house and the incredible ocean views.  There are two huge suites that are perfect for couples, and two smaller rooms that can accommodate one or two divers each.  A good size for a trip with Epic Diving is six to eight divers. 

One of the great things about this trip is that it is land-based.  Oceanic whitetip sharks are only found in deep oceanic waters, but that kind of water is just a couple of miles off the southern tip of Cat Island, where we stayed.  I flew into Nassau, met up with Howard and Michele, spent five hours in the airport there, ate a surprisingly good lunch at the Wendy’s at the airport (their french fries are great!), then we had a 1.5 hour flight to The Bight Airport (TBI) near the middle of Cat Island, The Bahamas. 

Debra and Vincent Canabal are incredibly smart folks who have an astounding ability to juggle and manage their various careers and interests.  They’ve turned their passion for showing people the beauty of sharks into their diving operation Epic Diving.  In their spare time, Debra works as a neuroscientist and Vincent serves as an emergency room physician!  In addition to all this, both are very competent divers (obviously) and photographers, and they are raising a three-year-old boy amidst all this, a great kid named Lucas.  I am amazed by their enthusiasm and competence. 

Cat Island, and the house we stayed in, had been hit by a hurricane in August 2011.  When we arrived, the house was still being patched up, but it was a perfectly fine place to spend a week.  Epic Diving supplied all meals; the food was plentiful and pleasurable.  The house was a great place for a group of divers; we spent the evenings viewing each other’s photographs and video as you can see in one of the images. 


We spent the first three days weathered out by high winds, rough seas, and some rain.  The three days passed by quickly; Vincent had amazingly been able to get a satellite internet connection up and so all of us, with the exception of Joseph, spent most of our time on our computers getting work done.  The house is way out in the middle of nowhere, so be forewarned that there is not much to do out there. 

As a consolation prize, Epic Diving took us snorkeling in the nearby mangrove forests.  There’s a nice, wide bay full of mangroves within walking distance of the house.  Epic Diving takes a skiff from this bay out to their 40-foot boat.  I always enjoy snorkeling around mangroves and trying to get the ultimate photograph of these important habitats.  Mangroves serve to filter out sediment from the water and thereby contribute to the health of coral reefs.  Their tangled roots also serve as essential habitat for all kinds of juvenile fish. 

We took a chance and went out on the fourth day.  The water was rough, but we got some sharks.  Oceanic whitetip sharks are among the most beautiful sharks.  They remind me of jet fighter planes, with their large pectoral fins. 

All divers are required to cover their entire body with darkish material – gloves, a hood, and a full-length wetsuit or skin to cover legs and arms.  The sharks are attracted to anything white and pale, such as an uncovered calf.  I was reminded of this when the incident below happened. 

On the morning of the second and final day of diving, Vincent, Joseph, and I were in the water fairly early.  Normally, the sharks are sedately swimming around.  They would swim in circles around us and the bait bucket, which is a couple of milk crates filled with fish bait, suspended from a float.  The sharks normally would cruise around just out of range of our hands.  All of a sudden, everyone in the water could feel more tension; the sharks got excited and started swimming much more quickly than before.  Vincent heard a snapping sound (my hearing and memory are terrible); I saw a shape below us shaking, and scales flying.  A huge blue marlin had come upon us and hit a fish below us. 

This was an once-in-a-lifetime encounter, seeing an 800-lb blue marlin approach.  It was excited, showing its stripes; and it approached Vincent and me within 8 feet or so.  Both of us got great still images of this magnificent animal.  The marlin, clearly excited, swam up to the surface and followed the boat for a few seconds.  It hung there long enough for Joe to think about jumping in, and then it swam back down, and disappeared. 

I’ve always been amazed by the ability of sharks to turn on their internal accelerators when they wanted to, and I experienced this in this situation too.  As soon as the marlin appeared, the tension in the water increased, and the sharks all began moving quickly.  Normally, the sharks would never approach me closer than 5 feet or so.  As soon as my attention was directed elsewhere, however, I was bumped by sharks.  One of them hit my Ikelite strobe quickly and hard.  This strobe was light grey in color, and even more attrractive to the shark, I had put a silvery label with my name and address on the top of it.  The shark took advantage of this situation to quickly test the taste of my strobe while my attention was directed at the marlin. 

Our second and final day of diving with the sharks was a tremendous success.  We had six hours of diving with sharks until we called it a day.  Being able to dive in clear, blue, oceanic water like this is always a treat, but being able to dive in this oceanic water with oceanic whitetip sharks (not to mention a blue marlin and silky sharks) was a rare present.

Thanks to Debra and Vincent of Epic Diving for treating me to such a wonderful five days of relaxation and incredible diving with these beautiful animals.

Here's their contact information:
info@epicdiving.com