Miscellaneous notes 2014

This document contains only my personal opinions and calls of judgement, and where any comment is made as to the quality of anybody's work, the comment is an opinion, in my judgement.

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These notes are opinions about miscellaneous (non-computing) topics, often brief informal reviews of products or shops or places ranging from canned food to pubs.

141227 Sat: First impressions of Samsung NX3000 camera

While being quite happy with my Samsung WB2000 (TL350) camera, I have been sometimes wished it had a larger sensor and a flash socket, and ideally even interchangeable lenses.

I have been reading some very positive reviews of CSC models and among them the Samsung entry-level NX3000 usually retailing for around £250 and the higher-class NX300 model usually retailing for around £330.

I have been very pleased to see that the NX3000 is presently avaiable for £190 from Currys and I have bought one.

My first impressions are rather positive, and in line with several reviews (1, 2, 3), so the good aspects are in order of decreasing importance:

The aspects I don't care much about are:

While I think that the bad aspects are in order of decreasing importance:

Compared to the WB2000, in order of decreasing importance:

As to sensor size and light sensitivity I am mostly going to use 10MP mode on the NX3000 instead of the native 20MP, in order to make the most of the sensitivity, and also because 20MP images are quite large, and 10MP images write to storage twice as fast. In a few tests with fine details at 400

Also I was tempted to buy for it a fixed focal length wide angle lens (the EX-W16NB 16mm 2.4f) because I almost always use the zoom at its wide angle setting, and the 20MP image mode can tolerate quite a bit of digital zooming (even just cropping), and I hoped it would be smaller than the default zoom.

Well, it is not really smaller (24mm versus 31mm) than the zoom lens when the zoom is retracted, and that is what matters, as what matter is the size of the camera when stored, not when in operation. Besides it is priced at more than the camera itself, just as the included 16-50mm zoom also is priced at much more than the camera itself, as the marketing strategy seems to be to sell the main item at a good value and the accessories at much worse value.

Overall I like both of my old WB2000 and the new NX3000 very much, for distinct purposes. The WB2000 has a much smaller size means and it is much easier to carry around on a casual basis, while the NX3000 has a much better sensor that means it will be very useful for high detail or low light situations. The WB2000 cam be thought of more as a camera, and the NX3000 as more of a camera-tablet hybrid, without being like the Galaxy range being actually Android based.

At the current discounted level of £190 from two popular shops like John Lewis and Currys in the UK it is amazing value if the limited zoom range is not an issue.

141116 Sun: Recycling air pocket style package wrapping

Lots of stuff gets packaged with air filled plastic pouches and recently I realized that not only they can be reused for further packaging but they can be used as transparent pouches for small items like batteries, nuts and bolts, just by cutting off one of the sides. They can be closed either by tieing one end on itself or using an ordinary tie.

They are durable, and that's probably because they are designed to be robust against inflation and taking knocks. Too weak pouches would burst too easily.

141028 Tue: Film photography with archival quality and cheap prints

I have recently used again my 40-year old 35mm film photography camera and the results have been excellent, with 200 ASA colour film and 5×7in prints.

The price for the lot impressed me as well, as a pack of 5 film cartridges with 24 exposures costs £15 or £3 per cartridge, and developing a film cartridge and printing 25 photos cost £5.50 (for the 2-day return service) which seems pretty reasonable, for a total cost of 34p per printed photo.

The prints seem much better to me than ordinary digital prints on inkjet, and probably also far more longer lasting, and I think rather cheaper too, as inkjet printer manufacturers rely on customers not doing their TOC sums properly.

It is also possible to have 35mm film cartridges developed and scanned to lossless images on a CD for around the same price, but I don't see much of a point for that, would rather use a digital camera directly. Perhaps there is a point in that negative film is very long lasting and easy to at directly and a more reliable archiving medium than any digital medium yet. But so are well done chemical prints as the paper used for my just received prints is expected to maintain a good quality of viewing for two hundred years.

There is some controversy about what kind of implicit digital-image resolution is available with 24x36mm film and an agreeable evaluation concludes that the best quality 24×36mm images may be considered to have 5472×3648 resolution, good ones may be considered to have 3072×2048 resolution, and indeed this is the resolution to which they are scanned when they are developed and digitized on CD, and my printed photos seem to me equivalent to the 3648×2432 photos taken by my Samsung WB2000 digital camera. While film photos tend to have much the same contrast ratio of 1000:1 as typical LCD screens, they have much better colour depth than digital images, even if most aspects are much reduced when printing: good chemical prints in 5×7in format may have a resolution equivalent to 1680×1200 pixels, and a contrast ratio of 100:1.

Very sadly in the past 10 years film photography has started to disappear, to the point that most 35mm film camera companies have closed down or stopped manufacturing film cameras switching entirely to digital cameras. Similarly for manufacturers of the film itself and its chemistry. There was a particularly dramatic collapse in 2003 (1, 2), then sales of digital cameras collapsed too in 2011 as cameras in smartphones became good enough and higher end smartphone sales boomed..

There are two main essential advantages of digital photography over film photography: the medium in digital photography, almost always flash memory, is both capable of holding many more images and is reusable many times, making it essentially free, and digital cameras are usually much smaller than film ones.

The medium is the critical advantage, because it allows to make many photos purely for trial. Printing is probably more expensive for digital than film, but many fewer photos get printed than shot. But I think that over the longer term many people will realize just how much more fragile are digital images compared to film negatives and prints, as they can only be displayed by way of a complex chain of devices and software, and standards can become obsolete all too suddenly. Digital cameras are also far more fragile than film ones, as they are essentially non-repairable, and rely on components, such as a specially-shaped batteries, that can also suddenlu disappear.

As to size, my Samsung WB2000 is nearly equivalent in quality and abilities to my film camera but the film camera weighs nearly a kilogram and the digital one 150 grams and includes a wide-range zoom lens; the size is also of course vastly different, and I can carry my digital camera in my (larger) pockets.

But ironically as size and weight the 35mm film format was adopted for photography because it resulted in rather small and light cameras, like the original Leicas and later models like the Rollei 35.

My impression is that there has been an unjustified mania in the past for SLR film cameras as they looked more professional even if rangefinder film cameras were much more compact and convenient, because the rotating mirror takes a lot of space, increases the focal length, an the heavy pentaprism on top for the viewfinder adds to size and also to weight.

Overall I think that for photos that I want to keep for the long term I will continue to use my film camera, and will continue to use my digital camera for more casual ones. As to the latter I am using it a lot as a scanner, a photocopiers, a notetaker, for example to photograph newspaper articles, or equipment serial numbers, or receipts, tasks for which a film camera is rather less convenient.

Old technologies often survive for a long time, and small scale manufacturing of film cameras and film and paper will continue for a long time; perhaps not so long for the film cameras themselves, but mechanical and electro-mechanical film cameras manufactured in the past are not scarce and can be purchased for low prices, and history shows that they last a long time, often a century or more, and when operating fully mechanically they are not dependent on batteries and are fairly easy to repair.

140928 Sun: Amazing naivety about "subsidized" cellphones

I was really amazed to see the adjective subsidized referred to cellphones bought as part of a package including a minimum duration subscription to cellphone service.

These packages invariably involve a monthly payment towards the cost of the cellphone, and the sum of these payments is usually much higher than the cost of buying the cellphone by itself, as the payments include interest like all instalment plans, and the implicit interest rate is quite high.

This is part of the standard marketing technique of selling a package of different items where the total cost of the package is higher than the sum of the cost of the items. This is easy to do when some of the costs of the items are opaque and involve the price of an implicit debt, because the typical consumer has difficulty feeling the cost of loans and unbundling the item costs of packages anyhow.

Marketing experts know that very well, and front-load the benefits, and back-load the costs via very expensive lending over a long period of time.

The article shows a case where a top-end cellphone is apparently sold for $299 as part of a cellular service package instead of $699 on its own, where the additional costs of the package brings the total cost to $899 over two years, effectively charging $200 interest on a $699 loan, which implies a very, very expensive interest rate.

The article suggests buying the phone on its own, which is a good idea, but with an explicit loan on the phone. This is better than an implicit loan with an opaque cost within a cellular service package. But it is a bad idea compared to buying the phone with a general loan, and especially compared to buying the cellphone with cash saved for the purpose.

The general reason is that loans are priced according to need, that is the more they are needed the higher the price. Therefore a loan specifically for a highly coveted item like a cellphone will be priced much higher than a general loan (and they are as a rule quite expensive).

Conversely vendors know that someone with cash has to be courted and incentivized to buy before they decide to spend that cash on something else, and therefore usually offer significant discounts for paying cash.

Indeed the only case where occasionally the cost of a cellphone is actually subsidized is when the potential customer can pay cash for the phone when thinking of buying a cellphone service package, because at that point it is in the interest of the vendor to make the sale of the cellphone service more likely by making the purchase of the cellphone more likely.

140706 Sun: Sainsbury's frozen cherries

I have tried today Sainsburys frozen cherries in part on account of fresh cherries having again and again gone up in prices currently around £8/Kg and they are pretty good with a few extra features.

Note: I suspect that these are, like the cooked bacon packets the retail version of a product sold in bulk to restaurants and other catering businesses, a good idea from Sainsburys

Being frozen they are not cooked and flavoured like tinned cherries in syrup and they are fairly equivalent to fresh cherries, but not as firm being unfrozen and seemingly riper.

The price is around £4.20/Kg when bought as a pair of 480g packs, which is attractive, especially as a they are without pits. I wonder whether the relatively small amount of ice is included in those 480g. They are even cheaper than the tinned cherries, as the latter cost around £5.60/Kg drained.

140628 Sat: Impressions of the Ubuntu backpack and some accessories

Some time ago in part to support Ubuntu I bought some Ubuntu themed accessories from their online shop.

The most important was their Ubuntu backpack which seemed pretty good and from a medium-high bracket supplier.

I have used it for a while and it is somewhat oddly designed but it is quite good, probably the best small backback that I have used. Which is not to say much as usually I bought backpacks with a price 1/5 to 1/3 that of this one.

But on an absolute scale I think it must rate pretty good too, as build quality seems excellent to me. The design also seems work out nicely. The main aspects of the design are:

I think that the main good points are:

What I did not like:

To some extent it seems designed more as a travel backpack than a commuting one (for which there is an Ubuntu messenger bag) because of the large main compartment but I often shop when coming home and a large main compartment comes useful at that time.

Overall I think that the Ubuntu backpack is very good, and worth the somewhat high price (for example because the larger compartment are nicely lined, and the many pockets).

As to other accessories I also bought:

Overall they are good, and prices are reasonable.