Proposed EU measures to extend product lifetime

I am happy to let you know that things are underway within the EU to ensure that products will last longer and will be easier to repair in the future. These are proposed measures at the moment, they’re not law, but they soon could be. The idea, according to the EEB (European Environmental Bureau) is to:

  1. Extend the lifetime of products
  2. Extend the availability of repair services
  3. Improve consumer information and rights
  4. Make these measures binding, not voluntary

If you live within the EU, I encourage you to contact your representatives to the EU Parliament and to ask them to support these proposed measures.

Even if this isn’t law yet, I am happy to see my own feelings on the matter mirrored by those in a position to do something about it. You may recall that I wrote an article called “Truly sustainable computing” back in August of 2015, where I proposed that desktop computers have a projected lifespan of 20 years and laptops and mobiles phones have a projected lifespan of 10 years.

The proposed EU measures would apply to every category of products, not just to computing devices, so things like cars, electronics, appliances would all be covered by the new regulations, ensuring we would once again have quality products that last a long time.

I say “once again” because those of you who are younger than me may not recall we had this sort of thing before the 1970s. The idea of “planned obsolescence” was introduced in the 1960s by manufacturers and that’s when things started to go downhill for products in terms of durability, repairability and build quality. You could still get kitchen appliances made in the late 1960s that looked and worked perfectly even in the late 2000s. You can no longer do that with today’s appliances.

It’s irresponsible in so many ways for us to generate mountains of e-waste every year and it’s doubly irresponsible for manufacturers to make them, one because they’re using the Earth’s resources without any regard for the future and two, because they make them easily breakable and disposable, contributing to the enormous amounts of waste that we generate as a race. It’s time we did something quantifiable and legally binding about this!

Group identity and commercialism

Here’s a short video log I recorded yesterday as I got to thinking about how we as humans tend to separate into groups and sub-groups and identify with them. We form separate cultures and sub-cultures and nowadays, we want to stand apart from what we see as the commercialism and consumerism of modern society. 

And yet, when we do that, we actually make it easier for advertisers to target us, because instead of making general ads for general products, they get to make very targeted ads for products specifically tailored to particular groups. So the effort to escape consumerism then becomes a moot point. 

People think this is a bad thing for some reason. But I say it’s a good thing. I don’t think there has ever been a time in the history of mankind when products tailored for specific uses could make it to market faster than nowadays. Sure, you have to sort through the crap, and there’s a lot of it, but there’s some really good stuff out there, made just for your needs. 

I also touch on the idea of money as currency and the inherent benefit of being able to convert skills or objects into such a portable currency that you can take pretty much anywhere and exchange it for what you need. Some people say we don’t need money, that we can trade directly, service to service, product for product, etc., but I sa that only goes so far. It’s so much more limited than money, particularly when you hold a very portable currency like the dollar, the pound or the euro. 

Yes, I’m still in bed, so please excuse my disheveled appearance. 

Here’s why should you get an advanced battery charger-analyzer

In this video, you will find out why it’s important to use a proper battery charger-analyzer and how using one helped me spot bad batteries in the batch of Ni-MH batteries used in my electronic equipment.

Before I got my charger-analyzer, I always wondered why some of my batteries seemed to last so little when I put them in my camera’s flash or in my keyboard or some other piece of electronics. It turns out some were of inferior quality, some were at the end of their life and some were just plain gone. Unknowingly, I was mixing good and bad batteries in my electronics and expecting them to perform properly.

The simple chargers I had previously used were reporting the batteries as fully charged when they were actually defective. This is why anyone who depends on batteries for their work should get a serious battery charger-analyzer, which has the circuitry and the capability necessary for proper testing of the batteries it charges and the ability to spot bad batteries right away.

As I say (repeatedly) in the video, I’m not trying to advertise any particular model of battery charger-analyzer but if you want to get the one I’m using, it’s the MH-C9000 from PowerEx.

From my personal experience, I can also recommend the following brands of Ni-MH rechargeable batteries to you:

I hope I’ve helped you!

Should you use shoe trees?

Question: I’m learning how to properly take care of shoes, and while browsing the web late this evening, I thought about shoe horns/trees. Now in the past I’ve found them, really just a sales gimmick, hardly worth my money. What do you think?

Shoe trees are worth getting, especially if you have quality leather shoes that you’d like to use for years and years. The general idea is to use them after you’ve worn the shoes and the leather has creased at the toe joints.

The important thing is for them to be made exactly for the size of your shoe. Look for ones made of cedar, they’ll absorb odors and sweat salts and make your shoes smell and feel better. You can leave these in whenever you’re not wearing your shoes. Woodlore makes some good ones and Allen Edmonds also makes them.

Woodlore Shoe Tree

Allen Edmonds Shoe Tree

If you’ve worn your shoes for a full day (12-16 hours) and you can see that the leather is damp, or if it’s been raining out, what you should do first is to air them out by hanging them onto an open shoe tree like the one pictured below for ½ a day or a full day, and only then should you insert a shoe tree in them.

Open Shoe Tree

This is because the leather needs to dry out, it shouldn’t be damp or wet. A shoe tree will fill the inside of the shoe and may promote mold, depending on the material out of which it is made. Once the leather has aired out properly, the tree will be able to do its job, which is to restore the shoe’s shape and allow the leather to remain that way as it dries out thoroughly.

Don’t get ones made for all sizes, particularly the inexpensive ones made with springs (like the pair pictured below). If you must get those, you can use them but you shouldn’t leave them in more than 2-3 days, because they’ll stretch the leather too much and the shoe will start to lose its shape. When I use these, I leave them in for a day or two at most, then I pull them out and allow the shoes to stay by themselves in the closet.

Travel Shoe Tree

In case you’re a new visitor to my website, I’ve also put together a detailed video where I show you how to take care of several types of shoes. It’s called “All Season Shoe Care” and I invite you to view it.

I hope this has helped you!

Hardware preview: ioSafe N2 NAS

ioSafe, the company famous for its line of rugged external drives that can withstand disasters such as floods, fires and even crushing weight, has come up with a new product: the N2 NAS (Network Attached Storage) device.

The N2 device comes at the right time. The market for NAS devices is maturing and demand is growing. Western Digital has even come out with a line of hard drives, the WD Red, specifically targeted to NAS enclosures. To my knowledge there is no such other NAS device out there, so ioSafe’s got the lead on this.

The N2 appliance is powered by Synology® DiskStation Manager (DSM) and is aimed at the SOHO, SMB and Remote Office Branch Office (ROBO) markets.

The high performance 2-bay N2 provides up to 8TB of storage capacity and is equipped with a 2GHz Marvel CPU and 512MB of memory. The N2 uses redundant hard drives as well as ioSafe’s patented DataCast, HydroSafe and FloSafe technologies to protect data from loss in fire up to 1550°F and submersion in fresh or salt water up to a 10 foot depth for 3 days.

Features:

  • Local and Remote File Sharing: Between virtually any device from any location online
  • Cloud Station: File syncing between multiple computers and N2 (like Dropbox)
  • iTunes Server
  • Surveillance Station: Video surveillance application
  • Media Server: Stream videos and music
  • Photo Sharing: Photo sharing with friends and family
  • Mail Server: Email server
  • VPN Server: Manage Virtual Private Network
  • Download Station: Post files for others to download
  • Audio Station: Stream audio to smartphone (iOS/Android)
  • FTP Server: Remote file transfers
  • Multi-platform compatibility with Mac/PC/MS Server/Linux

Hardware:

  • Dual Redundant Disk, RAID 0/1, Up to 8TB (4TB x 2)
  • 2GHz Marvel CPU and 512MB memory
  • Gigabit Ethernet Port
  • Additional ports for USB 3, SD Memory Card
  • User replaceable drives
  • Protects Data From Fire: DataCast Technology. 1550°F, 1/2 hr per ASTM E119 with no data loss.
  • Protects Data From Flood: HydroSafe Technology. Full immersion, 10 ft. 3 days with no data loss.
  • FloSafe Vent Technology: Active air cooling during normal operation. FloSafe Vents automatically block destructive heat during fire by water vaporization – no moving parts
  • Physical theft protection (optional floor mount, padlock door security – coming Q1 2013)
  • Kensington® Lock Compatible

Support and Data Recovery Service (DRS):

  • 1 Year No-Hassle Warranty (for N2 Diskless)
  • 1 Year No-Hassle Warranty + Data Recovery Service (DRS) Standard (for loaded N2)
  • DRS included $2500/TB for forensic recovery costs for any reason if required
  • DRS and Warranty are upgradeable to 5 years ($.99/TB per month)
  • DRS Pro available includes $5000/TB + coverage of attached server ($2.99/TB per month)

Operating Environment:

  • Operating: 0-35° C (95°F)
  • Non-operating: 0-1550°F, 1/2 hr per ASTM E119
  • Operating Humidity: 20% – 80% (non-condensing)
  • Non-operating Humidity: 100%, Full immersion, 10 feet, 3 days, fresh or salt water

Physical:

  • Size: 5.9″W x 9.0″H x 11.5″L
  • Weight: 28 lbs

The N2 appliance is being brought to market with funding obtained through IndieGogo. I know it’s hard to believe it when you look at their products, but ioSafe only has about 20 employees. Sometimes they have to be creative in the ways they fund their R&D.

The ioSafe N2 will begin shipping in January 2013 and will be available in capacities up to 8TB. Introductory pricing for the ioSafe N2 diskless version is available for $499 on Indiegogo ($100 off the retail price of $599.99) if you want to get your own hard drives.

I’ve also written about ioSafe Solo, the ioSafe Rugged Portable and the ioSafe SSD devices.

Do you know Dieter Rams?

Dieter Rams (Image source: Wikipedia)

Here is Dieter Rams, one of the giants of industrial design.

I love the man’s approach to design and his clear avoidance of planned obsolescence. He is a great example of standing for something that you believe in and then changing the world because of your stance. Wonderful.

You may also want to read through his speech on design, given in 1976, the year I was born.

Three cool jacket designs

Here are three innovative jacket designs.

Jacket with inflatable hood by Rahel Ritchie

Not yet in production, but I think it’s very cool. It’s got a built-in pillow so you can sleep while traveling.

jacket-with-inflatable-hood-1

jacket-with-inflatable-hood-2

jacket-with-inflatable-hood-3

[via LikeCool and Rahel Ritchie]

RuckJack

“Rucksack? Jacket? You decide.” Another neat convertible jacket design, this one turns into a rucksack, and it’s not expensive. Price is between £46-56.

ruckjack

[via LikeCool]

Vessel 3-in-1 jacket by Justin Gargasz

This innovative jacket is not only a backpack but also a tent!

vessel-3-in-1-jacket-1

vessel-3-in-1-jacket-2

vessel-3-in-1-jacket-3

[via The Design Blog]

Reduce your waste with a toothbrush? Yes.

The Terradent toothbrush stands out from the pack of dental hygiene products out there not because of the complicated design of its head and the multitude of angled bristles, but due to the simplicity and thinking behind its design.

In two words, it has replaceable heads. When you need to change the brush, you don’t change the whole thing. You snap in a new head, and you keep the same handle. It’s beautifully simple and yes, it’s hygienic.

After you remove the old head, if you feel it’s needed, you can scrub the handle’s tip with a little soap and a brush, or you can pour some little hydrogen peroxide on it, to make sure it’s squeaky clean before you attach the new head, but don’t get hung up on it. As long as you replace the heads regularly, the toothbrush will be safe to use for years and years.

My wife and I have been using Terradent toothbrushes for about 4 years, and we love them. We only buy replacement heads, which is cheaper than getting the whole toothbrush and means we’re generating less waste. All that fancy rubber and injection-molded handles in today’s toothbrushes means you’re throwing away a whole bunch of plastic, every time you get rid of one. That’s a shame, particularly when the Terradent toothbrush proves it’s so easy to do the smarter thing.

I put together a short video demo of the head replacement on one of our toothbrushes, to show you how easy and simple it is. You can watch it on YouTube or above. I hope you’re going to think about buying one of them the next time you go shopping for your bathroom. They’re available at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, or directly from the company’s website.

Image used courtesy of Eco-Dent.

Storage drops below 7 cents per gigabyte

In January of 2009, I mentioned the price of storage had just dropped below 9 cents per gigabyte. I see now that 2 TB drives are selling below $150 (they’re $140), so it’s time to update my figures. At $139.99 for a 2 TB (2,000 GB) SATA hard drive, that comes out to less than 7 cents per GB. That’s a great deal, and it goes without saying that it’s the lowest price for data storage consumers have ever seen.

Updated 4/19/10: Micro Center is selling 2 TB Seagate SATA drives for $119.99. It’s an in-store special, with a one drive per household limit, but still, that makes it 6 cents per gigabyte. What can I say — expect the price to keep dropping…

On the downside, it seems hard drive manufacturers have hit a ceiling with 2 TB drives. I haven’t heard talk of 3 or 4 TB drives, or anything larger than that. Perhaps I haven’t been keeping up with storage news properly, so if you’ve heard some good news, do let me know!

Camera review: Olympus PEN E-P2 DSLR

The nice folks at Olympus sent me a PEN E-P2 DSLR for me to review, and I got to use it for about a month. As I usually do with the cameras I review, the E-P2 became my primary camera. I took it everywhere with me, and I shot both photos and video with it. A succinct description of my thoughts on the camera goes as follows: superb design, diminutivewell-made, clearly thought outreliable and a joy to use.

Details

This camera made me think seriously about switching to it permanently, and using it as my primary camera all the time. I loved it so much I didn’t want to give it back (I did give it back in the end). I loved everything about it. Even its few flaws pale in comparison with the advantages it gives you. I’m not the only one who raves about it. My wife loved it too. Other photographers loved it. People on the street would stop me to ask about it. And it’s no surprise, because it looks really good.

Raoul, using the Olympus PEN E-P2. Photographer: Thomas Hawk.

All that wonderful design and the overall good looks wouldn’t mean much without actual performance, and boy, this camera really delivers! The photos are superb, wonderfully well exposed, details are great at 1:1 (100%), low light performance is beautiful, even with the fairly slow (f/3.5-5.6) kit lens, and auto white balance is right on the money (not too cool in low light, which was the case with earlier Olympus cameras, and not too warm, either).

The PEN E-P2 isn’t perfect. There are a few sticking points. The two you’re likely to notice are battery life and autofocus failure in low light.

I’m used to battery life that hovers around 500-700 shots per charge. Perhaps that’s why I usually take that many photos when I visit a place. Or perhaps it’s just a coincidence, I don’t know. I do carry a spare battery when I shoot with my usual camera, so that means I can usually take 1200-1500 shots before I’m out of juice. The E-P2’s battery runs out around 250-350 shots, and it may run out faster if you take a lot of photos in rapid succession. That was a bit of a surprise to me, and since I didn’t have an extra battery, it did limit the amount of shots I could take. So, my advice to you is to get an extra battery (or two) depending on your shooting habits.

In low light (and I mean fairly low light, with little contrast between lighter and darker colors) the E-P2 will keep searching, trying to focus, and it will finally give up after a few seconds. You can overcome this if you use a faster lens, or if you switch to AF+MF or MF. That way you can choose to focus manually after the camera says it can’t do it, or you can start focusing manually right away.

Expecting the E-P2 to shine all around is a mistake. No camera is going to be perfect. In every camera ever made, some features were taken out, or couldn’t be put in at all. I look at the E-P2 as I look at my MINI Cooper S. It’s diminutive, the design is gorgeous, and the performance is great for my needs. I didn’t buy my MINI expecting it to perform like a Hummer, and by the same token, you don’t buy a PEN E-P2 expecting it to work like a Nikon D3X or a Canon EOS 1D Mark IV. They’re different cameras, designed for different purposes. When you buy an E-P2, you expect it to be light, versatile, stay out of the way, take good photographs (great photographs, actually), and to shoot HD video. It does all those things beautifully, and more.

I thought I’d place some weight on the DxOMark ratings for the E-P2 after I saw them, but in the end, it wasn’t a concern. It’s like the iPad, you see. You don’t get it until you hold it in your hands. Then it clicks. It’s the same with the E-P2. After you begin using it, you get it, and you don’t want to let go of it, because you know you can get great pictures with it, and you love the way it works, and the way it feels.

Even my wife, who doesn’t like taking photos with my Canon 5D, because she thinks it’s too much work to get the camera set up and adjusted, and doesn’t like it even when it’s on full auto, loved the PEN E-P2 and was able to take great photos with it. That showed me that Olympus was able to strike a great balance between a DSLR that will cater to the needs of a pro through its many buttons and manual settings, and will also please the amateur by assisting them unobtrusively as they use it.

We’d do well to remember a few things about Olympus here:

  • First company to come out with a self-cleaning sensor for a DSLR
  • First company to come out with Live View for a DSLR
  • First company to come out with magnified view for TTL MF on a DSLR
  • First company to come out with the idea of capturing video and photos with same DSLR sensor. I call it the “idea”, because what they did was to capture Live View video shown on the camera’s display via the main sensor, and the leap from that to recording video from the sensor is a fairly small one.
  • First company to come out with the smallest DSLR on the market. The E-420 was the first one, and now the PEN picks up Olympus’ famed lineage of analog cameras and takes it digital.

Even though larger companies like Canon and Nikon are reaping the benefits of implementing things like self-cleaning sensors and live view and magnified focus assist, and HD video, it’s really Olympus who did the hard work to bring these features to the market. Their implementation of these features may not be the flashiest or the loudest, but they were first.

I’m going to repeat a few things I wrote in August 2008, in an article entitled “DSLRs and video to converge“, after the Nikon D90, the first DSLR that could also shoot video, had been launched:

As good as the [Nikon] D90 is though, it will soon be eclipsed. Why? Market forces. How long do you think it will be before we’ll have a DSLR that can record 1080p HD video? Or how about an even smaller and thinner DSLR than currently possible? How about a DSLR that looks and weighs about the same as a point-and-shoot, but gives you photo quality that’s equivalent to (or exceeds) today’s DSLRs? It’s all coming.

Keep in mind the time when I wrote those things, and what came afterward. Just a few short months later, the Canon 5D Mark II came on the market, and it could record 1080p video. The floodgates had opened. And now we have a smaller and thinner DSLR than ever thought possible (Olympus PEN), one that looks and weighs about the same as a point-and-shoot camera (Olympus PEN), but gives you photo quality that exceeds that of other DSLRs. And there’s a huge difference in sensor size between that of a typical digicam and that of a PEN camera, as you can see below. (The sensor of the PEN camera is on the right.)

Here’s what else I said back then…

You know where else I’ll be proven wrong? Back when I attended the Olympus E-3 launch party, I talked about the camera’s (somewhat) limited 10 megapixel resolution, and I thought they had reached the limitations of the Four Thirds 2x cropped sensor. I thought the sensor’s surface area was too small to get more resolution out of it. But now that Canon has proven you can get 16 megapixels out of a 1.6x cropped sensor, I don’t see why you can’t get 12 megapixels or more out of a 2x cropped sensor.

I had my doubts about whether or not the Olympus engineers would be able to squeeze proper low light performance out of the four thirds sensor while increasing resolution, given the sensor’s size when compared to a full 35mm sensor, but they’ve done it! The PEN E-P2 goes up to 6400 ISO if you want it to, and the photos taken at 1600 ISO are definitely usable. Even the ones taken at 3200 ISO look pretty good to me. I’d reserve 6400 ISO for daylight use, such as when you want to take a high-speed photograph. Nighttime photos taken at 6400 ISO were fairly grainy, but then again, I was using the slower kit lens, whose aperture stops at f/3.5.

One last quote:

Wait, it gets even better. The current aspect ratio of Four Thirds cameras is 4:3. The aspect ratio of Micro Four Thirds cameras will be 16:9. That’s the same aspect ratio used in movies. Where do you think that’s going? It means your photos and your videos will have the same aspect ratio, and the line between photography and videography will get even more blurred, and it’s quite possible that in the near future, we’ll have 1920×1080p HD video recorded by a tiny little DSLR with a tiny little lens on it.

Okay, I was wrong about that one. Things are even better now. The PEN E-P2 will let you shoot at the following aspect ratios: 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 and 6:6. It shoots 720p HD video at 16:9, and it’s only a (short) matter of time before the PEN will be able to shoot 1080p HD video, as predicted. Keep in mind it will still be the tiniest little DSLR on the market, with a tiny little interchangeable lens on it, and that will make all the difference.

While I’m on the subject of video, do you want to know what else sets the PEN apart from other DSLRs that can shoot HD video? The fact that you can choose between several auto-focus modes, or image stabilization modes, or adjust both aperture and shutter speed, and apply live art filters to the videos, in-camera. I don’t know of another DSLR that lets you do this. As a matter of fact, you can shoot video in P, A, S or M modes, and you can adjust the aperture live, as you’re shooting. You can adjust the zoom, and if you have AF tracking enabled, your subject will continue to stay in focus. And you can see or preview all of the adjustments you’re making, on the screen or in the viewfinder, instantly.

Hands-on Video Review

I put together a hands-on video review of the E-P2, which includes the unboxing, a run-down of the camera’s exterior and its accessories, initial impressions and sample photos and video taken with it.

Olympus PEN E-P2 Hands-on Review

Specifications

While you can find all the specs you’d want and more on the Olympus PEN website, I’ll point out the more important ones here:

  • 12.3 megapixels resolution (4032 x 3024 pixels)
  • SSWF (Super Sonic Wave Filter) dust reduction system
  • Micro four thirds mount (of course)
  • 17.3 mm x 13 mm LCD screen, 3 inches across, 230,000 dots, 100% FOV
  • 11-area AF System: Imager Contrast AF (S-AF, C-AF, S-AF+MF, MF, C-AF+TR)
  • Shutter, 60 – 1/4000 sec or up to 30 min in bulb mode
  • 3 fps drive, up to 10 sequential RAW images or 12 sequential JPG images
  • TTL Image Sensor Metering: 324-area multi-pattern metering, center-weighted or spot-metering, EV 0-18
  • Flash synchronization: 1/30 – 1/180
  • Photo ISO: Auto 200-6400 or Manual 100-6400 in 1/3 or 1 EV Steps
  • Movie ISO: Auto or Manual 160-1600
  • Color Space: sRGB, AdobeRGB
  • RAW, JPEG, RAW+JPEG for photos
  • AVI for videos, 30 fps, limited to 2 GB per file, 720p HD (1280 x 720 pixels), 480p SD (640 x 480 pixels), max recording time 7 min for HD, 14 min for SD video
  • Wave Format Base Stereo PCM/16-bit, 44.1 kHz for sound
  • SDHC memory card recommended (can use older SD cards, but they’re not recommended for HD video)
  • Live View, 100% FOV, 7x or 10x magnification assist for MF
  • Image Stabilizer for photos: 3 modes (2D, Vertical and Horizontal), up to 4EV steps compensation
  • Image Stabilizer for videos: shifting electronic image (aka Digital IS)
  • Aspect ratio: 4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 6:6
  • Battery life: up to 300 shots
  • Dimensions: 4.74in (W) x 2.75in. (H) x 1.37 in (D) / 120.5 mm (W) x 70mm (H) x 35mm (D) (excluding protrusions)
  • Weight: 11.1oz/335g (body only), 13.6/385g (body, battery and media)

Sample Photos and Videos

I took the camera with me to the Flagler Museum and The Breakers in Palm Beach, to the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, to the Boardwalk on Hollywood Beach, where I met with Thomas Hawk, and to the Vizcaya Museum in Miami. If I had gotten it sooner, I’d have taken it with me to Las Vegas as well. I also used it heavily inside and outside the house. I shot photos and video with it in all sorts of light conditions — like this video on shaving. After an initial winnowing process, I have 954 photos taken with it in my photo library, and 2½ (149 minutes) of HD video recorded with it.

I didn’t get the chance to edit and publish all of the photos and video clips taken with the camera yet, but I will get to all of them in the near future, and will post them here on my blog, so stay tuned for that. Until then, here’s a good selection of what I’ve already edited.

This first photo shows what you can get right out of the camera. I set the E-P2 on i-Auto, and as you can see, the light is a mix between strong daylight and shadows. With other cameras, you’d get more contrast between the light and dark areas, and you wouldn’t see so much detail on the tree bark, for example. But the E-P2 was able to keep the sky blue and still give me vibrant, light greens and browns in the shadowy areas, which is great.

Notice again how it was able to render great detail in the shadowy areas, even when shooting directly into the sun.

Notice the fine detail and soft bokeh in this macro photograph of a palm frond. This was taken with the 14-42mm kit lens. Even though the lens is said to focus properly only from 0.25 m/0.82 ft to infinity, when the camera was set to Macro mode, it could focus much closer, up to a couple of inches away from the subject. Keep in mind this is not a point-and-shoot digicam that you can set to Macro and be done with it, but a DSLR with an interchangeable lens, which is much more complicated and normally has limitations on what it can do. After all, that’s why these lenses are interchangeable, because they’re built for specific purposes. Yet this kit lens proved to be much more versatile than I thought.

These are colors obtained right out of the camera. If you’d like to see the specifics of a photo, feel free to download it and view the EXIF data, it’s included in each sample photograph.

This next photo is unedited once more. It’s what the camera gave me at 14mm (28mm effective) and 1600 ISO. It was a fairly dark room, and I shot this against a bright window with early afternoon daylight (2 pm) coming right at the camera. Notice the detail and lack of noise in the darker areas.

This was a particularly dark room. It appears well lit only because I shot this at 1/20th of a second and 1600 ISO. Notice once more how vibrant the colors are, and how good the auto white balance is.

This next photo shows that you can get some neat bokeh effects if you play with the manual focus. The photo is unprocessed, as the camera made it.

Another reason to like the PEN E-P2 is that I can take great portraits with it. Yes, you’ve got to love the bokeh you can get with really fast lenses like the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4, but you’ve also got to love the clarity of an Olympus camera. The whole face is in focus, and every minute detail can be seen if you zoom in. It feels like you can almost touch the skin of the person whose portrait you’ve taken. It’s a great characteristic, and I noticed this way back when I was shooting with the Olympus C-3000Z, as you can see in this photo from 2005. The photo you see below is of my wife, Ligia, and once again, it’s right out of the camera. It’s incredible how brilliant the colors are.

Here are a few more portraits I took of her with the PEN E-P2. I love this camera.

Here are a few more sample photos taken at Vizcaya, in Miami.

A few sample videos (shot in 720p HD) are embedded below. There are more on the way, as mentioned above. I used software motion stabilization on a fair number of the clips, as I shot them handheld, without a tripod or any other sort of external stabilization device, and I foolishly forgot to activate the in-camera stabilization.

Tea Ceremony – Morikami Museum

On the Beach at The Breakers

A Tour of the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

Accessories

When you buy the PEN E-P2, I recommend you definitely get the following accessories:

  • Li-Ion battery (PS-BLS1) — get an extra one or even two of these, depending on how many shots you need to take per session
  • MMF-2 Four Thirds to Micro Four Thirds Adapter — this is a must-have accessory, as it lets you mount any four thirds lens onto any PEN camera
  • 16 GB SDHC Card — get whatever brand you like, but make sure it’s SDHC
  • VF-2 Electronic Viewfinder — if you didn’t get this in a kit with your PEN camera, it’s really worth getting, as it will pivot up and act as a WLF (Waist Level Finder); you can see me using the PEN E-P2 with the VF-2 mounted onto it and pivoted upward in the second photo from the top of the article.

These next accessories come down to personal preference. Get these if you like them:

The current selection of micro four thirds lenses is somewhat slim, but it’s growing. And the beauty of having adapters like the MMF-2 I listed above is that you can use any regular four thirds lenses with PEN cameras, so you don’t have to buy extra micro four thirds lenses if you don’t want to.

But what if you’re heavily invested in Canon or Nikon gear, and would love to get a PEN camera? That’s okay too, because there’s a Canon lens to Micro Four Thirds mount adapter. It’s the same if you’re a Nikon shooter. There is an adapter that will let you use Nikon lenses with a PEN camera.

Two companies out there make these kinds of adapters: Novoflex, a German company, and Fotodiox, an American company. Since I’m heavily invested in Canon EF lenses, I called Fotodiox and asked them what they have for me. They have a specific Canon EF lens to Micro Four Thirds mount adapter, but it does not let you control aperture, so you’ll be shooting wide open. They did tell me they’re working on a specific adapter for Canon EF lenses that will let you mount them to PEN cameras and control aperture and auto-focus, just like you would with a normal lens. They said the price for it would be around $300 when it comes out later this year. That would be a very cool adapter, if it indeed delivers on its promise!

Then I called Novoflex and asked them whether they have a Canon EF to Micro Four Thirds adapter, but they don’t. They do have a Canon FD to Micro 4/3 adapter, which if I’m not mistaken will let you mount EF lenses as well, but you’ll be shooting wide open, without the ability control aperture, and of course you’ll be focusing manually.

I also found out that Canon makes a nice, simple metal EF lens to Micro Four Thirds mount adapter, and it’s only $40! So if you don’t mind shooting wide open and using manual focus, then definitely get this adapter, because it looks sturdy and it’s inexpensive.

Summary

It’s time to wrap things up. What can I say, other than what I’ve already said? I’m in love with this camera!

A number of significant design and engineering ideas from Olympus came together beautifully in the digital PEN: diminutive size, great sensor, beautiful design, IS, SSWF, Micro Four Thirds, HD video, light and capable lenses, a whole host of features design to make things easier for the photographer, and beyond the hardware, a tangible sense of soul, a certain something that binds you to the camera as you begin to use it.

Just like the analog PEN revolutionized the way people thought of cameras and of how they took photos, the digital PEN is a wonderful continuation of the PEN legacy, a beautiful leap through time, from film to the digital world of today.

Images of PEN E-P2 used courtesy of Olympus. The PEN E-P2 can be purchased from Amazon or B&H Photo.

Not happy with changes to Kinder Surprise

Updated: Since I wrote this post and made the video, I have learned that Kinder Surprise and Kinder Joy are two different products and what had happened is that Kinder Surprise was temporarily taken off the market due to shipping concerns during the warm months. Now both are back on the market and I’m happy as can be getting the occasional Kinder Surprise and playing with the toy. 🙂

I used to love Kinder Joy, the little egg-shaped chocolate treats. They’d have these nice little toys inside, often cars, wrapped in these reasonably tasty shells made of milk chocolate. Now they’ve changed things completely.

The toys are these cheap things that fall apart as soon as you assemble them, and they’re no longer appealing, and the eggshell chocolate is gone. Even though they’re still wrapped in a plastic egg-shaped shell, the chocolate is now this soft fudge of white chocolate which sits on one side of the egg, while the toy is in the other half.

I guess it’s cheaper to pour the chocolate into half a shell than to mold it into an eggshell shape while the toy is inside. It’s also cheaper to forgo sterilizing the plastic parts for the toy, since they’re now sealed separately into other half a shell. And it’s also much cheaper to go with flimsy things instead of nice little cars.

made a video of one of these “late-model” Kinder Joy eggs, so you can see this for yourselves.

CFL vs LED rate of adoption

I think it was sometime in 1997 when my college (Middlebury) ran an energy efficiency campaign and held a few sessions for students where they could learn about new technologies, such as CFL (Compact Fluorescent) bulbs. Those who attended were given their very own CFL bulb, for free. Prices then were about $20-30 per bulb. I used mine in my desk lamp, then took it with me when I graduated, and it made various moves with me, lighting various lamps of mine, until 1½ years ago, when it finally gave out one evening.

It was a spiral-type CFL bulb like the one you see below, it wasn’t a particularly powerful model, and it certainly took its time to get warm and reach its rated lumens (10-15 minutes), but I thought it was a cool concept and I was glad to do my bit for energy efficiency.

Nowadays, there are a ton of CFL bulb models, for both indoors and outdoors, made to fit all lamps, of all shapes and sizes, and even colors. I’m not just talking about different bulb temperatures, but also literally about bulb colors. I’ve seen blue, red, green and orange CFL bulbs — I don’t who’d buy them, but they’re out there.

They even have dimmable CFLs, which is a big deal for some people.

If you pause a moment to think about this, it took over 30 years for CFL technology to mature and reach the same sort of production and adoption levels as incandescent light bulbs, which were invented in 1879 by Thomas A. Edison [source]. CFL bulbs were invented by Ed Hammer from GE in 1976. Initially shelved by the company because they deemed the technology too expensive, the design leaked out and became popular [source]. Commercial models first came to the market in 1980 from Philips, then in 1985 from Osram [source]. I, along with many others, first heard of CFL bulbs as a new technology about 13 years ago, after they’d already been on the market for over 15 years.

LED (Light Emitting Diode) bulbs have an interesting history. The bulbs themselves as we know them today (replacements for CFL and incandescent bulbs) have a fairly short history, having only been introduced in 1999, although their ancestor, the now-humble light-emitting diode, has lived inside our electronics for decades. Unlike with incandescent and CFL bulbs, it’s much harder to attribute credit for them to any single person. Generally speaking, Nick Holonyak, an engineer at GE, is considered the inventor of individual LEDs, having made them in 1962. LED light bulbs are a different story altogether, and it’s much more of a group effort, with many people and companies working together to produce commercially viable versions of this new lighting technology.

It was the Philips company who came up with the first 1W LED bulbs in 1999. In 2002, Lumileds came out with 5W LEDs [source]. After that, progress came quicker. The key with LEDs is the ability to increase their light output to make them viable replacements for regular light bulbs. Newer, more powerful LEDs have been introduced since then by various companies such as Cree, Inc., Seoul Semiconductor, Nichia Corporation and others that have each been more powerful, brighter and efficient than their predecessors.

That brings us to where we are today, which is just a few short years since 1999 — relatively speaking. It’s 2010, and LED bulbs are getting massive press attention. There are already a ton of models on the market, from various companies, in various sizes, color temperatures and screw types. The only thing holding them back from mass adoption are their prices, which are still hovering above $30 per bulb. Some bulbs go as high as $50 or more.

There are distinct advantages to LED bulbs, or else they wouldn’t get all this attention. For one thing, they’re even more efficient than CFL bulbs, and for another, they contain no harmful mercury, unlike CFL bulbs. (Given the mercury levels contained in CFLs, it’s unfortunate and thoughtless of the EU to outlaw incandescent light bulbs as they did last year, in 2009.) Finally, LED bulbs last a LOT longer — their projected life span is 20-30 years, which is more than the 5-10 years we expect CFL bulbs to last.

Another benefit that doesn’t get as much airtime is their ability to operate at voltage ranges, not at specific voltages, which has been the case with all bulbs so far. I’ve seen LED bulbs that can operate from 85-250V, and that’s huge for me. It means I can take a bulb I bought in the US to Europe and use it there, or vice-versa. For those who travel between continents, this is a big deal, just like it was a big deal when companies started putting out 110-240V adapters for electronics. It meant I could take my laptop to Europe and use it there without a separate transformer, or I could take my cellphone along and charge it without a separate transformer.

I first heard about LED bulbs a couple of years ago, when LED christmas lights first came out. Remember that time? The lights were expensive, but given how much electricity gets consumed with festive lighting during the holiday season, switching to them was a compelling choice. As I write this, I’m looking at the LED lights in our Christmas tree, including the LED star on top (we still haven’t taken it down because it’s so nice to look at), and I realize how far we’ve come.

Given how fast LED bulbs have progressed, technologically, I think it’s safe to assume the public will also adopt them faster than CFLs as well. LED bulbs have the added advantage of having reached mass production much sooner than CFLs, and having made it to store shelves a lot sooner than CFLs. The only thing that remains is for their price to become more affordable. Market-wise, I think they’ll cannibalize the CFLs first, not the incandescents, simply because the same people who are interested in CFLs will tend to switch to LEDs now. The people who are still buying incandescents, for whatever reason, such as the requirements of their electrical installation or their price, will still continue to buy incandescents. What may hurt the sales of LED bulbs though is the fact the a lot of people have already invested heavily in CFL bulbs. My parents and I have switched almost all of the bulbs in our homes to CFLs, have already made that investment, and will likely wait until our CFL bulbs give out before we get new LEDs.

Still, when you consider that the market for lighting products continues to increase, I think we’ll see increasing levels of LED bulb adoption, starting as early as this year.

Updated 12/10/10: According to this article from Care2, Sylvania and Philips have already begun selling more affordable LED light bulbs, at $20/bulb for about 60 watts of light output.

LED and CFL bulbs are available for purchase from Amazon.