05/12/2016

Canon EOS 5D Mark III - The Guide to Understanding and Using Your Camera

This post should have been published a LONG time ago.

O'Reilly are known for their computing books, but they also do technology on other subjects through Rocky Nook. Here's a review on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III - The Guide to Understanding and Using Your Camera from Paul Clark (a professional photographer).

Having worked through the EOS range from 40D, 50D, 5D2 and now to the 5D3, this book has unlocked many things I thought I already knew about Canon digital cameras, even before we get to the new features of the 5D3. It's usefully laid out - in part, going through each menu feature much like the manual does, but adding a lot of When and Why to the How of the manual's basic descriptions. For the first time I really understood what the stopping down preview was all about, and some of the Live View functions. As well as the feature dissection, the book also goes into great detail on some of the really complicated areas that benefit from a chapter to themselves. Focus, and in particular the 5D3's sophisticated autofocus settings are really well explained. I suspect that the actual range of functions is so vast and complex to set up that in the field one would hardly ever have time to do more than a couple of familiar settings, but it's nice to know what's on offer anyway.

The illustrations are clear and plentiful, and the text very readable. I'm a big fan of the style, but if I could pick out one area for improvement it would be a stronger steer towards "what really works" for different shooting scenarios - e.g. which of the many options on focus point selection might work best for a particular settings, or what three custom settings should be the shooter's priority when preparing. There are a few of these "opinions and tips", such as whether the Rate button really offers any value, but there's always room for more in a book like this.

Overall: excellent.

Next time publishing will be in a more timely manner.

24/11/2016

Tide, now washing the web

Tide, the on-line business account has now moved into beta. The app can be downloaded from Apple's App Store and it's now possible to access Tide through the web (through it ties into the mobile app and certain things will be authorised through the app).

Tide is a new kind of business account designed for small businesses, it's incredibly easy to sign up (takes under 3 minutes), you immediately get a sort code and account number and you can set-up sub accounts too (so say one is your main business and one for consulting). A card arrives a couple of days later which can be used in ATMs, stores and on the web to pay for things.

As posted before there's an invoicing part of the app and the template can be customised with your logos etc and then if it gets paid, it will tie the payment to the invoice, if it isn't paid, the invoiced person can be automagically reminded from time to time.

All transactions can be tagged (like Sales, Loan, whatever) so easy to see what's happening with your money.

If you haven't signed-up, do it now.

p.s. there are no bank charges as such, though some transactional fees will be taken (like in future when accepting card payments through the app).

Geek? Get some cheap ebooks

There's a deal on at the moment at Hummbebundle, you can pay what you want (starting at $1), but paying more unlocks more books.

The basic bundle contains: -

  • Unix in a Nutshell, 4th Edition
  • sed & awk, 2nd Edition
  • lex and yacc, 2nd Edition
  • Learning the bash Shell, 3rd Edition
  • Linux Pocket Guide, 3rd Edition

Increasing to $8 gets you: -

  • bash Cookbook
  • Classic Steel Scripting
  • Learning GNU Emacs, 3rd Edition
  • Unix Power Tools
  • Learning the vi and Vim Editors, 7th Edition
  • Bash Pocket Reference, 2nd Edition
  • Learning Unix for OS X, 2nd Edition

And then for $15 you further get: -

  • Essential System Administration, 3rd Edition
  • TCP/IP Network Administration, 3rd Edition
  • DNS and BIND, 5th Edition
  • Network Troubleshooting Tools

The are all O'Reilly books, DRM free and come as Mobi and ePub.

Useful arsenal of tools and for $15, a real bargain.

AliveCor Kardia band for Apple Watch

AliveCor make things that can read your ECG (EKG) and they've now released the Kardia band which is an Apple Watch strap.

It's easy to install, just press the release buttons on the underside of the Apple Watch, slide the original straps out and insert the Kardia Band ones (the sensor band goes into the one at the bottom of the Watch).

The watch rebooted after the sensor strap was inserted, but it came back fine.

You need to have the Kardia app installed and register an account, then make sure it's installed on the Apple Watch.

Running the app on the phone doesn't do much (it's designed to work with other AliveCor products). Opening the app on the watch then gives you the option of recording an ECG. It's best to have your hand resting somewhere and not moving much (there are options in the app to select which region you're in and whether you're in a 50Hz or 60Hz mains area).

The sensor strap has two sensors, one underneath the strap and one on top. Say the watch is on your left hand, lay that flat somewhere and place the right hand on to it and your finger on the top sensor. Hit record (well you'd probably do that before, you're given some time before a reading is taken) and a countdown timer starts, stay as still as possible until it finishes. After the reading is taken is does some calculations and you can scroll through your ECG and the watch app tells you if it's normal or not (couldn't test the not normal reading) and you can save the results.

It's possible to allow another user to use the app, but the watch needs to be placed on them.

The band costs £99.00 direct from the AliveCor site in both 388mm and 42mm versions. It's a nice quantified self device to have, but expensive and unless you have a heart problem, don't know if really worth it and have to wait to find out how it affects battery life of the watch.

23/11/2016

Intel Genuino 101

Well there seems to be a bit of a battle going on in Arduino land, so some of the boards are now known as Genuino (outside of the USA). This board, the 101, is produced by Intel and has a Curie processor (Quark architecture) and a 32bit ARC CPU (not ARM, this is a CPU based on the Argonaut Risc Core - remember Argonaut Software and Jez San), they're both clocked at 32MHz and are 32bit.

Though the board will act like a 'standard' Arduino and can be completely driven through the Arduino IDE, it actually runs an Intel Real Time Operating System (RTOS) that Intel has open sourced and is available through their download centre. When the IDE compiles the code it will do the right things and put the right bits on the correct core.

The 101 should support most UNO and Zero shields, though it's a 3.3V board (though Intel say it will tolerate 5V boards). It's powered either through a dedicated 5V socket or through the USB port. It's NOT microUSB but the older chunky USB B socket.

As well as the 2 cores, there's also a 3 axis accelerometer and 3 axis gyroscope so the board can sense it's spacial direction and movement and it also supports Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) meaning it can do things like become a beacon or talk to your phone.

The tech specs are

Operating Voltage3.3V (5V tolerant I/O)
Digital I/O Pins14 (of which 4 provide PWM output)
PWM Digital I/O Pins4
Analog Input Pins6
DC Current per I/O Pin20 mA
Flash Memory196 kB (though on-board 384KB rest for RTOS)
SRAM24 kB (80KB on-board again rest for RTOS)
Clock Speed32MHz
LED_BUILTINpin 13
FeaturesBluetooth LE, 6-axis accelerometer/gyroscope

So altogether a nice little Arduino (sorry Genduino) which is pretty fast and pretty compatible.

Pricing varies considerably on-line and it's available from around £16 all the way up to £35, and its available in a variety of kits.

26/10/2016

Ring your bell, ring your Oi

Another day, another Kickstarter project. This time it's a bicycle bell made by Australian firm Knog who seems to make a variety of bike accessories (lights, locks, computers, toolsets) and now bells.

The Oi bell is different from other bells, it's circular and fits around the handlebars (it's easier just to look at the picture).

The bell materials available are aluminium, brass, copper, and black (though only copper and brass seem to be available at the moment) and it was also available in Titanium via Kickstarter.

It comes in two sizes, small and large - fitting 22.2mm and 23.8 to 31.8mm handlebars respectively.

The chime is quite pleasant and the design is definitely different.

It's available to buy on-line for €19.99 through the Knog site

Kobo Aura ONE eReader

Kobo have been making eReaders for a while, but have never quite got the market penetration (compared to their book selling rival).

The Aura ONE is a nice unit. It's bigger than the competition (the screen is a 7.8 inch Carta E.ink display with a resolution of 1872 x 1404 at 300ppi). It weighs 226g. So it's about the same size as a paperback book and weighs about the same (195.1 x 138.5 x 6.9 mm). It charges via microUSB and battery life is up to a month (varying by usage of course). The display is backlit and it has a light sensor which will adjust the colour of the front light to suit ambient surroundings (and time of day, so it will reduce the blue content at night - which can potentially affect sleeping technology called ComfortLight PRO).

Several standard book formats are supported, including the most popular ePUP, ePUP3, PDF and MOBI. It can also display several image formats and comic book formats (CBZ and CBR).

The main new feature however is the water resistance, it can survive getting wet (IPX8 i.e. an hour in up to 2 meters of water). If reading in the bath is your fancy, this is the reader for you (or even in the shower, though that's less practical). It's probably usable on a beach too, though salt-water tends to mess things up really badly if it does get into the electronics.

When plugged into a Mac/PC it appears as an external USB disk and books can just be dropped on to the device. Once unmounted (ejected) the books are 'processed' and put into the library ready for reading. Trying both a ePub and MOBI version of the same book (O'Reilly tech book), though the Kobo would read both, the MOBI version caused the Kobi to become very sluggish and reacting to page changes or going back 'home' took a while. The ePub version reacted quickly without problems. PDF's were sluggish too and caused various bits of the screen to flash as pages loaded and moved between bits of the screen.

If you have an account on the Kobo store, it's easy to download a book, just find the one you want, tap on it and it will download.

It's also possible to borrow books from your local library (assuming there's still any left in your area) using the Overdrive service. All you need is a library card and books can be requested. You'll be warned (3 days) when the book needs to be returned, then you can re-request it if you haven't finished it. The list of libraries is available here.

Assuming you stick to ePubs it's not a bad eReader and being waterproof is a nice feature. It's a shame MOBI/PDF aren't handled better.

The Kobo Aura ONE is available on-line for £189.99 which is a lot cheaper the Amazon's top of the range eReader, but a lot more expensive than their basic ones, though it's bigger and more book like. Oddly the Kobo site doesn't have availability at the moment.

12/10/2016

Adonit Pixel - it's no pencil (but close)

Adonit have been making styluses for iPads for a while. The latest incarnation is the Pixel (which is slightly longer and thinner than the previous Script so it feels more like a pen). It still uses a 1.9mm pressure sensitive point at the end, but it's been improved so it feel more like a pen on paper.

It has rechargeable battery which is charged via a small USB adapter which plugs into a USB port and then the Pixel can "sit" on that.

It can work with any iPad or iPhone as a dumb stylus, but the magic happens when you power it up and then use it with applications that know about stylus' (there's usually an option is the settings area of the application to enable it).

As it uses Bluetooth it only works with iPhone 5, 5c, 5s, SE, 6, 6 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus, iPad Mini, iPad Mini 2, iPad Mini 3, iPad Mini 4, iPad 4, iPad Air, iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro 12.9 (don't quite know why it won't work with the smaller iPad Pro). Packages that support it are Photshop Sketch, Concepts, Procreate, Illustrator Draw, Autodesk Sketchbook, Astropad, Picture Photo Studio, Goodnotes, Penultimate, Notes Plus, Noteledge Cloud, Noteshelf, Myscrypt Smart Note plus many more (and more being added all the time as Adonis have an open SDK that people can use to integrate the Adonit features into their apps).

In terms of features, the Pixel's nib is pressure sensitive so things like line widths or increased/decreased shading will correspond to the pressure being applied, there are also two short-cut buttons that can be defined within the application (say to change brushes or undo/redo). Supports apps also support palm rejection (you tell it your pen holding style) and that can make a big difference as putting your palm on the screen will normally confuse the app and may apply paint (or whatever's being drawn) where your palm is. This can allow a much more comfortable drawing position without worrying about where your palm is resting.

The only gripe is that if you have a screen protector on your Apple device, it can make it feel a bit squidgy (the screen protector in use has a soft texture, a glass screen protector would fair better).

If you're into drawing or note taking on an Apple device, this could be a useful addition for you.

Amazon stock the Pixel for £79 but it can be had online for £59 if you look (it's also cheaper than the Apple Pencil which is only supported on iPad Pros).

18/08/2016

There's a new business bank in town and it'll wash the competition (it's called Tide)

There's a new business mobile first bank which will be launching soon. It's called Tide and it looks pretty good.

Though there are a slew of new banks coming on-line, Tide is aiming for the business market with no fees (they make their money on various services that a banking customer might use and they're not unreasonable).

The first thing to say is it very easy to sign-up. Just present a valid ID to the app and take a photo of it, then clever magic works out who you are (which you confirm) and then it asks what company you're going to use (it looks up your details in Companies House).

You then get an account (a real account number and sort code).

Once set-up you can do all sorts of things through the app, like invoice customers, pay invoices from suppliers etc. When invoicing it can track incoming payments and send out reminders if the customer doesn't pay. If you need to take a credit card payment, it can do that too, just scan the customer card, it will then ask the customers for the CCV (the number on the back of the card) and that's it (there's a fee for handling the payment, that's where Tide take a small percentage), but no card readers to worry about etc.

The service is currently in alpha to a few select customers (the alpha client looks very nice, though the version tested was a sandbox'ed version so not doing live transactions, the real alpha client does the same thing in a live environment) and it will hopefully launch in beta very soon.

Though it's mobile first, all services are also available on-line (web access) and there's a (developing) API on to everything, so if you want to build your own client and offer new services, you'll be able to do so.

If you want to sign-up for access, use this link Tide Preview.

21/07/2016

Blink (and the thieves are gone)

There's a new home security security system, it was originally a Kickstarter project and was delayed a long time. But now it's here and it's called Blink.

There's a sync module and then camera units (the system can cope with 10 units in total i.e. 9 cameras and 1 sync unit). Currently it all works over WiFi, but as there's an Ethernet port on the sync unit, it's expected that it will be enabled with some future version of the firmware.

Set-up is relatively simple, install the iOS (or Android) app, create an account and then it will look for the sync unit (it initially uses its own WiFi), connect to it and select the WiFi network you want it to work with.

It then asks to set-up the cameras, which is done by adding the number printed inside them (you have to open them to put the batteries in anyway), they then get added (and you can name them) and they also connect to the WiFi network.

The camera install is relatively straight forward too, open the back, put in the batteries, push out the bit of plastic in the hole where the mount goes, put it all back together (snaps), put the mount on, then affix the two sided pad and stick it on a wall (or wherever suits).

Though they're battery powered, they should operate for a year under normal operating conditions. The cameras have a motion detection on them (infrared red) and also an LED flash (for night time usage) which is VERY bright. If a burglar were to break in, they'd probably be more put off by being blinded rather than a camera being in the room. The cameras can take a photo or video (720p with audio) and the system can be alarmed and when triggered, your phone will notify you and get a video or photo.

People have used the cameras outside, but they're not waterproof so if that's required, mount them somewhere where they'll be protected from direct rain (like under the eaves or similar).

A single sync module and camera costs $99 (available from Amazon.com or directly from Blink), a 2 camera kit is $159, 3 camera kit $219 and 5 camera kit $399. Additional cameras are $70. Unfortunately they don't seem to be directly available in the UK yet (though Blink will ship to the UK).