Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Google's portal gets RSS

If you haven't seen the Google Labs "Personalize Your Hompage" feature you should check it out. It was recently extended to be able to subscribe to RSS feeds.


What's more, it's got the funkiest javascript to handle the panel movement. :)

It seems all I'm doing lately is discussing Google!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Mapping wars heat up

Kudos to Microsoft for releasing their Google Maps competitor: MSN Virtual Earth.

It's not quite as complete as Google Maps yet but give 'em time. MS have been in this space for a long time (have you heard of TerraServer?) and they'll no doubt improve quickly. And they're actually ahead in some areas - much of their data is very impressive, in some cases providing closer satellite shots that Google Maps.

Oh, and it would be an oversight not to mention that Virtual Earth also has a set of developer API's. Incidentally, that website was created none other than our own Dr Neil.

Speaking of Google Maps, they recently made a nice tweak: there is a new 'hybrid' view that overlays the road and satellite images. Both Virtual Earth and Google Earth had similar features.

Competition is good! Now if either of those products only had good Australian data...

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The joys of photography...and the pain of a hard-learnt lesson

I just realised that I haven't yet posted about one of my favourite hobbies, the great art of photography. And since I've had a recent tragedy I may as well begin now...

I've always enjoyed shooting photos but in the past couple of years I've begun getting more serious about it. My Dad has a Nikon F801 (N8008 for you US folk out there), a beautiful old 35mm camera, as well as a couple of cheap lenses - a 24-80mm f/3.5-5.6 and a 70-300 f/4.5-5.6. I used it as my own - and loved it - until I decided to take the plunge and go down the digital path. There are many reasons to "go digital" but for me, the way it accellerates your learning and allows greater experimentation was the clincher.

So a year or two ago I purchased a Nikon D100 and the Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 lens from a work colleague (thanks Marian!). Great starting kit! Took it everywhere - hiking around Wilsons Prom, sailing, skiing, everywhere. It was robust, reliable and took great photos (a little soft but every camera has it's character).

Then of course I had to buy the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 (yes, I very nearly bought the 1.4 but couldn't justify the cost for the benefit!). Great lens, so flexible, particularly at night where the wide aperture comes into its own. And they're cheap! (I bought mine from B&H which I can highly recommend. Keep in mind that you will be taxed 10% duty when it goes through customs though.) Love that lens, it's just fantastic except for one failing - ensure there are no bright lights in the scene when it's wide open as it suffers from strong ghosting.

Much to my delight, Mum and Dad chipped in and bought me a Manfroto tripod for Christmas and so my kit started to fill out.

However, I was lacking a telephoto. After reading seemingly hundreds of websites I decided that it was time to really get serious so I decided I wanted the Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 (yep, the #4 in that review). I couldn't justify the extra $$$ for the AF-S or the drool-worthy Nikon 70-210 f/2.8 AF-S VR but the 80-200 AFD is, by all accounts, a ripper. Fast, fast focussing, solid and sharp as a tack, this is the kind of lens that defined Nikon and helps make photography a joy. I decided that the only way to buy it here in Australia (where camera gear is horrendously expensive) was via eBay. After many lost auctions I finally won one from a reliable seller than I trusted, even though he was a Texan. ;) When it arrived I was ecstatic, the lens was in great condition and lived up to all the expectations.

That was a month or so ago. During that month I ran out and took many shots with 'my new baby'. All was good.

Last weekend I was shooting a friends soccer game for some sports photography practice. It was windy, overcast and a bit wet - generally terrible conditions. But I was happy, my camera and lens were performing well and I managed to shoot some good shots despite the poor light and weather. Then I made a fatal mistake. Not having eaten all day (I'd gone out shooting photos near Albert Park in the morning) I decided to get some food at the caf at half time. I left the camera on the tripod maybe five metres away from the shop so it was in plain sight and left the kit alone. I turned to pay for my hotdog only to hear the gut-wrenching sound of glass breaking. The camera and lens were lying on the ground, surrounded with glass.

After the chill shot up my spine I ran to pick it up. God it looked bad. However I was fortunate - the only glass that had broken was from my Hoya UV filter. The rim of the front housing was damaged, cracked, but when I'd cleaned out the glass I'd found that I could still focus using the lens and there were no obviously tight spots or nasty sounds. Although there were some minor nicks in the front element the lens seemed optically sound.

But I still felt like vomiting. Literally.

Anyway, there's a lesson here kids - don't, under any circumstances, ever leave your camera sitting alone on top of a tripod. I'm still not sure how it fell over (either a huge gust of wind or perhaps I just simply didn't set the legs out properly? *sigh* I don't know.) but just don't take the chance. Take it off and sit it in your bag.

The sad part is that I knew that. And 99% of the time I would have just instinctively put my baby back in her bag. But for some reason, this time, I didn't. And I paid for it [1].

The lens is currently still functioning well - albeit with the "limit" switch engaged. That switch prevents the lens from close-focussing so it doesn't unnecessarily search if it hunts for focus but in this case it's on to prevent the front elements from extending into the cracked housing. Ick. I feel ill again. But I won't ever hear of anyone poo-pooing Nikon build quality - it's a miracle that the lens still works, hell I shot the rest of the soccer match!

Don't let my disaster story discourage you though - photography is a wonderful pastime, if you enjoy it then get out there and shoot photos! Just remember to look after your gear...

Update: Sorry the original post didn't have photos, I was in a rush to get on my holiday to Daylesford! Here's some hastily-taken shots: <*sob*>

[1] Speaking of paying, I'll be taking it in for repair - hopefully they'll be able to replace the front housing for a reasonable cost.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Boys weekend away

Friday afternoon saw ten* guys leave for Sprocket's family holiday house in Portarlington. We'd decided to have a 'boys weekend away' where we'd do very little except play poker, pool and maybe have a few drinks...

Rather than tell all the stories ("What happens in Portarligton..." ;) ) I just wanted to say I had a great time - it's always going to be fun going away with good company.

Speaking of company here's a list of the lads:

Jeremy ("Jiggy")
Anthony ("Sprocket")
Jarek ("J-Man")
Mark ("Screws")
John ("Chisel")
Stu ("Mallet")

Thanks guys, it was fun. :)

Don't ask about the nicknames - it's a long story! (One of you original tools ought to blog about the tale...)

Congrats to Stu for cleaning up in game one of the almighty poker tournament and Jiggy, Sprocket and Mick for sharing the spoils after the seven-hour marathon of game two.

Oh, and a shout-out (that will probably never be heard!) to the ├╝ber-sweet Becky from Bendigo for agreeing to appear in a couple of sunset photos. Thanks!

Update: Photos are now online.

* OK, it was eight - Stu and Mick joined us on Saturday.

Google Maps API

I didn't have time to blog about this when I read about it the other day. But since I've reported about all their other announcements...Google have released an API to their fantastic Google Maps.


Google Maps API

Fantastic. :)