Going Portable. My new MacBook Pro.

Date March 28, 2009

15 Macbook Pro

A number of things aligned in such a way lately that I decided to pull the trigger on a new MacBook Pro (MBP for short).  I got the 15.4″ unibody late 2008 model, with a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo and 2 GB of RAM which I’ll probably upgrade later on (I just read that 8GB kits are available).

I considered getting the smaller 13″ Macbook as it is equally as fast and would be quite portable at only 4.5 lbs, but ultimately I decided that for my purposes, I would need a larger screen.  As an amateur photographer I use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop quite a bit.  I could probably use Photoshop on a smaller screen, but Lightroom really demands a fair amount of screen real estate in order to get the most out of it.  That being said, the Pro model also includes a faster graphics processor which has its benefits as well, especially with the latest version of Photoshop CS4.

First Impressions

I knew I’d be happy with my MBP as Apple hasn’t disappointed me in the past with any of their hardware offerings such as ipods, iphone, etc.  Plus, I’ve read many good things about the macbook line including how they are the fastest notebooks even when running Windows.  So far I’m a very happy customer!

I’m not going to outline all the features of the MBP in this post.  You can find all the info you need on Apple’s website.  I will, however, talk about what I find are the most notable points of this laptop:

1. Multi-touch trackpad.  I didn’t think it would be that impressive.  Being a mouse-in-hand type guy until I got this laptop last week I always assumed trackpads were horrible devices only to be used in emergencies as a last resort.  But this trackpad is vastly superior to anything else I’ve ever used.  The texture is fantastic.  Your finger does not stick, and it just glides smoothly over the surface.  The use of multitouch is probably the best invention on a notebook since the invention of the touchpad.  I do not miss the mouse at all, and I think this is actually more intuitive for scrolling in all directions.  Using two fingers you can scroll up, down, left, right and anything in between.  This comes in pretty handy on large webpages.

2. Noise, or lack of noise I should say.  This laptop is by far the quietest machine I’ve ever used.  For a while I thought I heard the fans running, which was bothering me because the machine was running quite cool, but it turns out that the noise I heard was the hard drive spinning.  You can only hear this in extremely quiet environments, but it’s there.  I’m not sure if this is a design flaw or not, it doesn’t really bother me anyways.

3. Size.  This laptop is thin and relatively light compared to its competition.  There is something to be said about a thin notebook.  It becomes that much easier to carry around.

4. Unibody design.  Apple really nailed this design feature by using a solid piece of aluminum as the case and key structural component of the laptop.  By doing this, they are able to make the laptop much thinner and lighter while also making it feel much more solid.  There is no flexing, or creaking of plastic panels on this machine.  It feels like a solid metal plate.

5. Last but not least is the smooth, minimalist design of the notebook.  The screen has a glass cover that extends to about 1/8″ from the edges and is flush with them.  This keeps things neat and tidy with no dust gathering between the LCD and the bezel.  Also, on the main body around the keyboard the design is very simple.  Very tiny holes are drilled for the speakers, and aside from the touchpad and inconspicuous power button, there is nothing else to clutter the design.  The power button is located in the top right of the main body and is mounted flush with the aluminum body.  This being my first Macbook, it took me a minute or so to locate the button!

Conclusions

I’ve had this machine for just over a month now.  I’ve used it quite a bit for day-to-day activities and fairly hardcore photography work.  I have never once wished I had an external mouse, or a faster processor.  I may invest in more RAM later as Lightroom 2 and Photoshop tend to like lots of the stuff and swapping between them can slow things down a little bit.  When running graphics or CPU intensive applications, the machine will get quite warm.  The fans will try to cool down the system but you won’t really notice them which is a really nice feature.

I have not run windows on this machine yet, but I’m sure it would run quite well.  I would definitely miss the benefits of multitouch and would likely need an external mouse, though I can’t say this for certain.  As well, windows might run slower due to its inferior architecture.  I’m a fan of OS X as it is essentially unix.  It runs quite well and I’ve never had any issues with it.  In fact, OS X might be the one feature that drew me towards Apple in the first place!

Energy and the Environment: A Time for Change

Date January 14, 2009

Environmental change has been on the forefronts of many people’s agendas for quite a while, and especially since Al Gore’s book An Inconvenient Truth was published.  This book seems to have highlighted the plight of the Earth in easy to understand ways that really hit home.  Of course there were criticisms of Gore’s book and the points he makes (I won’t get into these) but the main point I think everyone agrees on is that we (as a planet) burn too many fossil fuels and generate way too much CO2.

The US, for one, is dependent on foreign oil which creates a plethora of political and environmental issues.  It seems that over the last decade much of these problems were exacerbated by the US’s top government being tightly connected to Big Oil.  Now that Obama has been elected as Bush’s successor, hopefully these connections will be severed and the US can start making changes based on the needs of the people rather than the needs of Big Oil.

There needs to be a push for abandoning fossil fuels wherever we can.  The first and obvious choice is in automobiles.  The technology exists today (in fact it existed 50 years ago) to build cheap electric cars that will serve 90% of the population’s daily needs.  For those people who need an internal combustion engine for long-haul driving, hydrogen can be used.  Hydrogen is easily produced using electricity and so it is also a clean fuel.  There just needs to be a push to move away from fossil fuels, either by the government or by the consumers.

There are a number of people trying to promote alternative energy to reduce our reliance on oil and fossil fuels.  Most of these people are telling us to invest in wind and solar energy.  Although these truly are renewable and clean energy sources, they’re not that practical for supplying the base-load on the electrical grid.  Yes, technological improvements over time will help make these become more practical and cost effective, but this will take years if not decades to achieve.  

An idea that I think warrants more attention is to generate electricity by means of wind or solar which can be used to generate hydrogen or supply other small loads.  BMW combusts hydrogen in their internal combustion engines, just like gasoline.  Hydrogen can also be used in fuel cells to power electric motors.  Both of these technologies could greatly reduce CO2 emissions while effecting little change on our day-to-day lives.

Of course, it will take strong leadership to bring this new technology into the mainstream, but hopefully Obama and his people can make some headway on this.  Leaders are nothing without their followers though, so people will need to be open-minded about new technologies.  Yes, they may cost a bit more at the pump (or plug, or whatever we might end up using) but think of the world and how it would be improving.  Think of how we won’t need to start wars over oil, or worry about the next hurricane or massive blizzard.  Global warming puts more energy into weather systems which creates more severe storms.  Reducing CO2 will (hopefully) prevent things from getting any worse.

Geotagging – Third Party Tools

Date January 11, 2009

I’ve posted previously about my Gisteq PhotoTrackr GPS logger.  This slick little device keeps a log of exactly where it is geographically, at any given time.  The log it creates can then be downloaded and cross-referenced with the capture time of your photos to give the exact location your photo was taken.  Although the PhotoTrackr hardware is pretty good, the provided software leaves a lot to be desired.  

The software Gisteq provides is intended to be the one-stop-shop for all your photographic workflow needs.  It allows you to import your photos, download the GPS track log, cross reference them and keep a database of it all.  While this probably works well for most users, it’s not for me.  There’s too many bells and whistles for my liking, as well the user interface is not that intuitive.  

I just need something basic with the following features: 1.) download the GPS file, 2.) cross-reference the photos with the track log, and 3.) add the coordinates to the photo’s metadata.  Oh, and it has to work on RAW files and integrate neatly with my existing workflow (call this feature 4.).  Not too much to ask for, right?

Well, the Gisteq software definitely will do everything I need it to (features 1-3) if I purchase the Pro license to handle the RAW files.  But the problem is that Gisteq has locked down the application to a single install, requiring an activation code and a whole bunch of unnecessary security all in the hopes of preventing people from using the program without paying for it.  This prevents you from downloading your data on another computer (ie. laptop, or at an internet cafe), which would be very useful for traveling.  It’s a silly decision in my opinion, as the software is essentially useless if you don’t have their hardware anyway.  

Luckily, I’ve found alternate software to let me bypass the Gisteq software.  It’s free, and once it’s set up, it will integrate well into your workflow.

Downloading (iTU4l and sr2x)

Prior to this post, I was not aware of any other software besides the Gisteq software that could download the track logs from the GPS device.  To me, this was the most serious problem as it meant I could not download the device while traveling.  There is hope though.  I’ve come across some Perl scripts that seem to work pretty well.  Obviously, Perl needs to be installed on your system, but if you’re using a Mac or Linux, Perl is already installed.  If you’re at an internet cafe, you’re probably out of luck though.

The first script (iTU4l) downloads the device and saves the data to a file.  This is raw data so it’s pretty useless without the second script.  The second script (sr2x) converts the raw GPS data into a variety of track log formats such as GPX, Google Earth’s KML format, CSV, etc.  Very handy.  A shell script can be made to download the data, and convert it automatically to your liking quite easily if you know how.  If not, here is the basic code for one to convert to .gpx and delete the serial data (.sr) file:

#!/bin/bash
iTU4l.pl -am
sr2x.pl -i p gpx *.sr
rm *.sr

Cross-Referencing (PhotoGPSEditor)

There are a number of applications that perform the cross-referencing of GPS track logs to photos, and also embed the data with the photo.  From my experience, my favorite applications are GPicSync (for Windows or Mac OS X) and PhotoGPSEditor (for Mac OS X).  I’m not going to get too detailed with these applications as they’re pretty self explanatory but my reasons for choosing these over the plethora of others is that they are simple, intuitive, light (small file sizes and require few resources) and free.  I chose PhotoGPSEditor over GPicSync for OS X because it’s a bit more user-friendly.  I also found the picture/map previews were very useful to pinpoint the location of the image if your camera and GPS tracker times don’t mesh properly.  

One drawback of PhotoGPSEditor is that it does not use xml sidecar files.  I would prefer sidecar files to prevent potentially corrupting the image file.  Also, I noticed that PhotoGPSEditor did not like to process large quantities of RAW files.  When saving the data to more than 200 photos (last step in the process) the software became unstable.  I’m not sure if this was a resource issue wth my computer, or simple a software bug, but for now I’ll keep the batches to less than 200 images.

Conclusions

While there is still a lot of progress to be made, the software I’ve mentioned above is definitely on the right path to streamlining geotagging for those not interested in the all-in-one image management applications provided by manufacturers like Gisteq.  A simple set of tools to integrate into my workflow is all I need when using applications like Lightroom or Aperture.

Australia 2008 – Epilogue

Date October 19, 2008

Well, it’s been a few weeks now since I got home.  Our trip was amazing and although we were gone for just over four weeks, it was too short.  We actually had to cut out some things we wanted to see from our itinerary.  But that’s ok, because it just means we’ll have to go back there again one day.

I’ve posted photos on Flickr and there are also a bunch going up on RawPixels (my photoblog) over the next week or two (and probably longer since I got so many interesting shots).  So feel free to check them out, and please leave comments if you like them!

I had grandiose ideas of blogging while on the trip, but the reality of it was that I just didn’t have time.  We decided to leave the laptop at home for this trip (still on the fence if I’d do that again) so that meant a dedicated trip to the internet cafe whenever we needed to go online.  In the future, I’d consider bringing a small laptop, or maybe one of those ultra-mobile laptops that are becoming popular.

In the prologue I talked a lot about the new gear I was thinking of acquiring for the trip.  Here’s what I ended up with: Read the rest of this entry »

Australia 2008 – Prologue

Date July 27, 2008

After too many years of spending all my time and money traveling domestically (Canada is such a big country and I’ve got friends and family in almost every corner of it), I’ve finally got the chance to take a month off and do some real traveling. Natalie and I are planning a month-long trip to Australia this September.

Coincidentally, one of Natalie’s best friends is getting married at the beginning of Sept, right when we were planning to start our trip. Of course we’re attending, but here’s the twist: the wedding is in Amsterdam! So we’re traveling to Australia via Europe, which is going to be a little more difficult, but a lot more interesting. Read the rest of this entry »