THE OLYMPUS OM-D E-M10 — REVIEW

Marilyn Armstrong:

An excellent review of a camera I hope to buy. Superb technology at a fair price. Olympus. My favorite cameras.

Originally posted on atmtx photo blog:

Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 EZ lens

Olympus OM-D E-M10 with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 EZ lens

Do you want a more detailed review? Please continue reading.

I like to start by thanking Charles from Olympus for letting me use the camera for an extended period. I shot this camera on many occasions and have even blogged about it couple of times (here and here), several months ago. If you read those early posts, you know that I often shot the E-M10 alongside my Fujifilm X100S that I purchased around the same time.

By almost every measure, the Olympus E-M10 is superior to the Fuji X100S. It focuses faster, the EVF works better, it’s more flexible and it has interchangeable lenses. I’ll give the Fuji the edge for high ISO quality and it’s probably a bit sharper. However, I’m splitting hairs here. For most people, you won’t notice a difference. Color wise, they both have their advantages…

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STILL STANDING

Object Lesson – Sherlock Holmes had his pipe. Dorothy had her red shoes. Batman had his Batmobile. If we asked your friends what object they most immediately associate with you, what would they answer?


Interesting subject.

Depending on when they became a friend. Some of my earliest friends … like my cousins … see me as that weird, overly intellectual kid with buck teeth and frizzy hair. They would think of me with my nose always in a book — and they’d be right.

The local little girls with whom I grew up would probably remember the piano — and the books. If I wasn’t playing Chopin or Beethoven, I had my head in a book.

indian corn kitchen windowThen, we get to college. I was first a music major and the people I met then think of me as a musician — and remember the piano. But a couple of years later, I found the radio station. That group is likely to think of me as the other half of my first husband, who was a very popular guy and the Fearless Manager of the radio station.

Then, I was off to Israel. A confusing time, but call me a deck of cards. We played bridge obsessively, often until the sun rose. And the bread baking too. And the computers, which were just beginning enter my life. Israel was the bridge between old and new me.

Back to the USA and add some stuff: the omnipresent briefcase because I was always working. A computer. And most important, Garry. Then, after a while, hospitals because for the past 12 years I’ve been in and out of them. Still there are the computers and bless his heart, Garry.

Throughout this entire time, you would always finds lots of animals — cats, dogs birds — children. And cameras.

Life changes. We change. Our technology and tools evolve. But there is an essential “us-ness” that stays, forming a core which makes us who we are. I hope that’s mostly what people who really know me recognize.

I’m not my computer, my blog, my books, my collections, or my husband. I’m just someone struggling down the lumpy road of life, hoping to get through it still on my own feet. Getting to the end still standing would be an achievement.

ANOTHER ONE JUST LIKE THE OTHER ONE: PANASONIC LUMIX DMC ZS-25

Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS -25

Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS -25

I had no intention of buying a camera. I wasn’t looking for myself. Someone else was looking for a camera and I was just doing a little research.When Adorama popped up with a refurbished Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS-25 16.1 MP for under $100, I said “wow.” (There were only two at that price and both have been sold.)

Lazy daisy

Lazy daisy

It came with a Sony 16GB SDHC card and a cute little case (original from Panasonic). It is not new, though it certainly looks and feels new. It’s refurbished by Panasonic and comes with a new camera warranty. Resistance was futile.

I have a legitimate excuse. No jury would convict me.

Day lily, back lit

Day lily, back-lit

My “go everywhere” camera has been the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS-19 and the ZS-25 is essentially the same camera, with a higher resolution. My old camera has a nasty dent on the lens where I gave it a whack about a month ago. So far, it has been okay, but hitting a lens hard enough to dent its case has inevitable repercussions. It doesn’t owe me anything.

The ZS-25 uses the batteries and charger I already own. It’s the same size as its predecessor. So, of course I bought it. Then I had to do a little test drive.

Japanese maple and sunlight

Japanese maple and sunlight

Although the specs make it seem they are the same camera, they are not.

The Leica lens has the same zoom (20X). Both old and new lens are F3.3-F6.4. But the depth of field is different. It’s noticeably shallower working close on the ZS-25 and it has a more attractive bokeh. The color is true — less green, more neutral. It focuses faster and recycles much faster. All useful improvements.

The menus have been simplified and it is noticeably easier to find the functions I use. I like the streamlined controls, too, though I miss the on/off switch. It’s now a button, like every other camera. The view screen has the same specs, but because you can adjust it for varying light conditions, it seems brighter and sharper.

My last red lily

My last red lily

The little ZS-19 has performed yeoman’s service for me. I’ve carried it with me everywhere for two years. It has shot more frames than the rest of my cameras combined.

I am pleased to be able to continue using essentially the same piece of equipment. It suits me well. Compact and light, good lens. Not the longest super-zoom available, but long enough — and wide enough — for most purposes.

My ZS-19 has been a very satisfactory camera and its granddaughter, the ZS-25, seems likely to be equally satisfying. I’m more than pleased.

Camera Effective Pixels 16.1 Megapixels
Sensor Size / Total Pixels / Filter 1/2.33-inch High Sensitivity MOS Sensor / 17.5 Total Megapixels / Primary Color Filter
Lens LEICA DC VARIO-ELMAR / 12 elements in 10 groups / (3 Aspherical Lenses / 6 Aspherical surfaces / 2 ED Lens)
Aperture F3.3 – 6.4 / Multistage Iris Diaphragm (F3.3 – 8.0(W), F6.4 – 8.0(T))
Optical Zoom 20x
Focal Length f=4.3 – 86.0mm (24 – 480mm in 35mm equiv.) / (28-560mm in 35mm equiv. in video recording)
Extra Optical Zoom (EZ) 25.3x (4:3 / 10M), 30.0x (4:3 / 7M), 36.0x (4:3 / 5M), 45.0x (under 3M)
Intelligent Zoom 40x

MASS DEMONSTRATIONS TO PROTEST NON-HUMAN UNION

Mutants and Hybrids

If you were one part human, two parts something else — another animal, a plant, an inanimate object — what would the other two parts be?


WEDNESDAY, MAY 28, 2014 – DATELINE WASHINGTON D.C.

Those who recall the furor over Gay marriage should probably have expected the hysteria over the legalized joining of humans with their favorite technology, animal, mineral or plant.

As millions of teenagers race to fuse with their cell phones, nerds with their computers, aviators with fighter planes, animal rights activists with their favorite vanishing species (leading some to wonder if this will not signal the death knell for many species) and tree huggers with large forests, fundamentalist Christian groups — never imagining the far-reaching implications of this law — scramble to get out of church and on the street.

GodIsFunny

“Clearly,” stated the Reverend Righteous P. Indignation, spokesman for the Church of the Ridiculous Assumption, “This is not what God had in mind. Although the Bible does not specifically mention marriage — or fusion — with non-human things, this can’t be right in His eyes.” Indignation’s statement was greeted by catcalls, neighing, bleats, beeps and a goodly amount of shrill ringing.

Many, mirroring the human yearning for the freedom of flight have chosen to become two-thirds bird. Racing enthusiasts have become mostly horse, often with the rear end as the dominant segment while their bookies have chosen chainsaws and jack hammers.

While corporations hustle to reinvent themselves in light of a weirdly altered target audience, communications providers from television to Hollywood try to reconfigure everything from seating in stadiums to snacks at movie kiosks.

The potential impact on major sports has not yet been calculated. Some prefer to be a ball and others a bat, so to speak. Simultaneously, the IRS is — at long last — revising the tax code before everyone gallops, flies, beeps, whirs and chirps him or herself forever out of reach of tax collection.

Only Walmart, ever sanguine, merely widened the aisles in their super-stores.

“We never care what customers look like,” said a spokesman. “If they look or behave like sheep or cattle, as long as they pay at the register, everyone is welcome at Wally World.”

MacDonald’s had no comment.

OH BRAVE NEW WORLD

It’s weird how something suddenly makes me realize how much the world has changed and not in a good way. Yesterday, I went to the kitchen to cut up an orange and a grapefruit. It’s a low-calorie healthy snack, right? I cut up the orange, dumped the sliced into a bowl. Then I cut up the grapefruit and put it into a bowl with the orange slices.

Whoa! I took a second look The orange slices were bigger than the grapefruit. Not a little bit bigger. A lot bigger. When did that happen and what have they done to oranges?

75-Orange-Grapefruit_3

Last summer, the strawberries got huge. They were closer to the size of plums than berries. Surprisingly tasteless, too. Somehow, I doubt it’s a natural mutation. They are messing with the fruit.

The grapes also got enormous last season and didn’t taste right. I won’t buy them anymore. What was wrong with the old grapes? They were entirely big enough and tasted delicious.

Meanwhile, my doctor thinks I might want to smoke dope and it’s actually legal to do it.

How ironic that I am less surprised by the gradual legalization of marijuana — its morphing into an all-purpose drug along the lines of aspirin — than I am by the genetic meddling going on with the food I eat. I don’t even know what’s in my food anymore. Is it still nutritious? Or is it a lethal time bomb?

Probably I don’t want to know the answer to my questions. It would just alarm me.

CAN YOU HEAR ME? ARE YOU THERE?

iphone-white

Going obsolete – or maybe going backwards.

I miss telephones on which you could be sure you had a connection that wouldn’t drop randomly and on which you could actually hear what someone said to you and know they could hear you, too. “Can you hear me? Hello? Are you still there?” It’s like 1915 all over again, only without wires or accountability.

We have all this fancy equipment … but you can’t be sure that a simple phone call will go through. What’s wrong with this picture?

OBSOLETE? I THINK YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT ME!

Going Obsolete

Of the technologies that have become extinct in your lifetime, which do you miss most?


I was declared obsolete about 6 years ago. I had been getting progressively less relevant for quite a while, but after the dot coms went down in flames, the high-tech world changed dramatically. Venture capital disappeared and with it, the exciting start-up companies which had been my bread and butter.

Technical writers were replaced by automated systems. No one cared whether or not documentation produced by the software was in any way useful. Tech support had been exported. Now the same thinking applied to documentation.

I — and it — was declared unnecessary. You could just call tech support. Let your customers wait on hold, get disconnected and finally, let them talk to someone who knows nothing and will give them wrong or worse information. Don’t provide a call back number to make them go through the whole thing again. What could go wrong with this? Who needs writers?

75-BW-CompOff-3

A lot has gone wrong. Too late for me, companies are discovering that customers who buy expensive gear want manuals too. They get cranky when a $5000 camera arrives without a book to explain how it works.

I never intended to be a technical writer. I was going to be a “real” writer … novels … literature. I wrote books, but only one novel. Everything else was information or instructions. For a gal who barely scraped through basic algebra, I picked up a lot along the way.

I was an editor at Doubleday in the mid 1970s, the halcyon days of publishing. We read manuscripts. Everyone read books and books were important. No one had 1000 channels on TV. Depending on your antenna was, you might not get much of anything except snow.

When I moved to Israel in 1979, I discovered the only kind of writing done in English (not Hebrew), was technical writing. I moved from typewriters to computers and found my milieu. I became part of the development team for DB-1, the first relational database. It revolutionized the information world … and with the creation of data object linking, the guts of the Internet we all take for granted today, was born.

I rode the high-tech wave until I became officially obsolete having been informed that “no one reads manuals.” Which is why I can’t figure out how to change the ISO setting on my camera. I can’t locate the menu. The manual, no doubt produced by a piece of software, doesn’t explain anything. I hope someday I’ll find the setting. But I digress …

I designed my downfall as I worked on “artificial intelligence” systems. The technology evolved fast and came of age in the 2000s. It replaced many people — including me.

This is the world I helped build so how can I complain? But honestly? I miss me.

BACK IT ALL UP!

I was just reminded of something. I go long periods and don’t think about it, but I shouldn’t, and neither should you. By “you” I mean absolutely everyone. Whatever you do — write, take pictures, or whatever — if you do it on a computer, back it up. I learned the hard way.

ILOVEYOU (aka Love Letter), was a computer worm that attacked tens of millions of PCs on and shortly after May 5, 2000. It showed up as an email message with the subject “ILOVEYOU” and an attachment: “LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.txt.vbs”. The  ‘VBS’ file extension was typically hidden by default on PCs back then. It wasn’t on my computer, but I worked on a development team on my computer at home — an early telecommuter — so it wasn’t unusual for me to get files full of code as part of my job.

external HD

It took a mere few seconds to destroy every single jpeg on my computer. That represented all of the photographs I had ever taken that I was storing on my hard drive, more than a decade of family and artistic pictures. It only took a few hours for a fix to be created and distributed, but it was too late for me.

I had been backing up to CDs, but I hadn’t backed up my photos, only financial records and my writing because that was work-related.

I lost hundreds, maybe thousands, of photographs.

External hard drives existed, but they were uncommon and expensive — very expensive. Now, there’s no excuse. You can get a huge external hard drive for short money. I back up intermittently to my two external drives, but a make sure to move files between my laptop and my big desktop everyday, and I save things online too

Eventually, I have 3 or 4 copies of everything, not counting whatever I store online. I don’t feel it’s too much. You can’t have too many backups of things that are important.

Even if it doesn’t seem very important. it can suddenly become very important if you have lost it forever and can never replace it. Back everything up. If it’s important enough to save it on your hard drive, it’s important enough to back up.

You can, for example, get a 3 TB external Seagate drive from Amazon for $139 including shipping. One and two terabyte drives are less expensive. If you don’t like that, there are ample choices for every budget. Don’t make excuses. One day, something bad will happen. A hard drive dies on you. It happens. It has happened to me twice. The first time, it was a secondary hard drive and I got enough warning to get my stuff off the drive. The second time, a message in a black  message box — I’ve never seen one like that before or since — appeared on my screen saying that there was a problem with my hard drive, back up now. By the time I finished reading the message, everything was gone.

But that time, everything was backed up. It was an inconvenience, not a catastrophe. I had learned my lesson.

You don’t have to learn the hard way. Back it up. All of it.

THE SECRETARY WHO PICKED

Once upon a time, in a far away land, The Boss assigned me a secretary. Not part of a pool, but a whole person. With a master’s degree from Mt. Holyoke. Pretty daunting, me with my little B.A. from Hofstra. So I said to The Boss:

“What is she supposed to do?”

“You write, she does the typing.”

He apparently thought I wrote in longhand. On paper.

So I had a secretary who was supposed to type for me? I was supposed to write longhand? I can barely hand write a shopping list. I can’t think without a keyboard. But I had a secretary.

She was American, like me. Thin. Tall. Blonde. (Unlike me!) Very nervous. Twitchy.

nose-picking-sign-300x300We discovered a shared passion for horses and went riding together. She rode a lot better than me. She had her own helmet, crop, jacket … the whole regalia. I had jeans and a pair of battered boots. I’d never worn a helmet.

About the same time, I had a less heartwarming revelation. I discovered my secretary was a dedicated nose picker — and she ate it.

She was fast and sneaky, but when you spend every working day with someone, it would have been impossible to not realize she had a long, nervous finger up her nose all the time.

I suppose everyone probably picks their nose sometimes — but this was different. She couldn’t stop. She admitted eventually she’d caused permanent damage to the lining of her nose from constantly attacking it with her fingernails.

Our offices were located on the fourth floor of a warehouse. No elevator, so you got exercise. You didn’t have to go out for lunch. It was catered, delivered daily and we all ate at a long table amidst many prayers. The boss was an orthodox Jew from Belgium. Other than Judaism, he believed in feeding his employees and giving everyone lots of vacation time. It was a good job; he was one of the kindest, most decent men for whom I ever worked.

Two floors below us was a chocolate factory. They made all kinds dark chocolate-covered citrus fruits (my favorite was grapefruit). If you were Kosher, you could eat them with meat or dairy. And oh my, they were so good. Around two in the afternoon, they fired up the chocolate vats and the smell would start drifting upward. I sent my secretary to get me chocolate. I didn’t know what else to do with her and watching her ream out her nose was getting to me. By mid afternoon, I not only needed chocolate. I needed a break.

She was such a nice woman. Smart. Well-educated. She objected to being sent on errands. I sighed. I didn’t really have much else for her to do. The nose-picking was wearing me down. I found myself trying to not look at her lest I catch her digging with a finger up to a second knuckle. One day I was sure she’d hit brain matter.

candied-chocolate-covered-orange-peel

Finally, she refused to get me chocolate and I had no work for her. Moreover, she was unable to keep her fingers where they belonged. I went to the boss. I said I felt my secretary needed to move on, perhaps to someone else in the company who needed her services more than I. He looked at me.

“What is the real problem?”

“It’s embarrassing.”

“Tell me.”

“She picks her nose. And eats it.”

I thought he was going to toss his cookies on the desk. That was the end of the story. In reality, not only did I not need a secretary, no one did. It was a computer development company. We all worked on keyboards. So her departure was inevitable. I just sped it up by a few weeks.

I didn’t mention the picking thing, but she knew. She also had to know she was underemployed. I’ve been in that position. You know when you’re redundant. No one will pay you indefinitely if you aren’t worth your paycheck. Unless your mom or dad owns the company.

Still, if it hadn’t been for the nose picking and her flat refusal to go down to the first floor and get me chocolate, she’d have had a little more time.

CHARGE! – Marilyn Armstrong

To keep the world running, I have to charge things that recharge and keep a stack of AAA and AA rechargeable batteries ready to go.

75-PowerNIK-CR-70

My world — the entire world and now, my heart too — runs on batteries. Mostly rechargeable batteries, except for my pacemaker which needs new batteries every 4 or 5 years (I think) and I do hope the batteries are very high quality.

Add 3 laptops, 2 Kindles, a couple of tablets, cellphones, 5 (6?) cameras, voice recorders, mouses (mice have fur and make squeaky noises, mouses attach to your computer), a wireless keyboard, a GPS, various clocks, flashlights, who-knows-how-many remote controls, electric razors, tooth cleaning machines, and a mind-numbing array of miscellaneous devices I can’t remember off-hand.

I have never lived in a house that had enough electrical outlets for things like lamps and televisions, much less a way to accommodate these chargers. So, I own power strips.

They are everywhere, snaking around corners, between dressers, behind the sofa, on each side of the bed and of course near each computer. They are also hiding in a lot of places you might never think to look. Throughout the house, in every room, power strips keep chargers charging and electrical devices functioning. From high-end hubs with surge protection to whatever was on sale at Walmart that day, every one is full or nearly so.

75-Wires-57

Most power strips are designed by people who don’t use them. I have reached this conclusion based on the design that presumes you will never have anything larger than a lamp plug that needs a socket. Not even a vacuum cleaner cord fits properly, much less a power supply.

Typically, power strips don’t leave room to fit more than 2 or 3 chargers in a strip designed for half a dozen plugs. There’s no allowance for odd-shaped power supplies that will use half a strip.

 

75-GearNIK-CR-72

I don’t understand why chargers have to be so inconveniently shaped, or why they can never make a 3-pronged plug that will fit into an outlet without a fight. Why do most chargers require that you insert them at the end of the strip. No one ever seems to consider that there are only two “ends” and only one without a cord in the way. There’s some kind of Murphy’s Law that say if you are going to need two wall outlets, both devices will need to be on top or on the bottom.

I have 2 electrical sockets in the bathroom and 2 devices that require electricity. Only one can fit. The other socket is always unusable. The one charger blocks both outlets. Always.

The first day we moved into this house, two events occurred that have since defined our lives in the Blackstone Valley. The toilets backed up and the power went out. The toilets backed up because the crooks who sold us this house parked their van on the septic system’s outflow pipe and crushed it. The power went out for the usual reason: heavy rain, high wind, and lightning. Getting to know my neighbors meant figuring out how to find an electrician and plumber before I’d unpacked.

I don’t notice how dependent we are on batteries until I’m packing for a vacation. Half a carry-on is allocated to chargers … just for things we use while we travel: laptops, accessories, a pair of Kindles, his and her cell phones, mouses, portable speakers and more. I used to pack this stuff carefully. Now I just shove the chargers and wires in a bag and untangle as needed.

High tension wire, golden maple leaves framed by an azure sky.

If you think our civilization can survive anything, ponder this. All our stuff depends on batteries and electricity. Without electricity and batteries, life as we know it would end in about a week or two, at least in cities. It might go on a little longer in rural areas. After that?

Life will be a jungle in where every man, woman, and child will fight to the death for a working AA battery.

 

It’s Not Your Equipment … It’s a Lack of Documentation! – Marilyn Armstrong

Maybe I should just give up, but I spent my career writing material to help folks use complicated equipment and sometimes very obscure software.

I should probably start by mentioning that I’ve fought this battle for long years … and was utterly defeated. About 7 or 8 years ago, high-tech companies, in a money crunch and driven by that bottom line that seems to be the only thing that matters anymore, began to eliminate technical writers. Entire departments were dismantled and eliminated. Jobs disappeared and what remained paid so badly it was insulting.

A decision had been made at the corporate level: YOU don’t need documentation. No matter how complicated or expensive the equipment or software you purchase may be, don’t need documentation. Companies provide the minimum the law requires or they can get away with. Quality is no object nor usability. Information is limited to basic stuff like how to install a battery and if you are lucky, where the compartment is.

I was a technical writer for about 75% of my career, the rest being divided between journalism, editing, promotions and advertising. But mostly, I wrote documentation and I though my work mattered. Probably naive, but I believe that if I documented a system, it should be well written, clear, organized, and useful., When a user needed to find something, it would be in the book and in the online help. It would be easy to find. I carefully avoided using mysterious search parameters that could be deduced via a psychic link to my brain. If you knew what you wanted, I made it easy for you to find it.

I was proud of my work. I still believe the fundamental goal of documentation is to make complicated things simple. Not necessarily easy because sometimes, the product was not easy to use, but that didn’t mean that it had to be hard to understand. My documentation was good for another reason: I used the product and tested what I wrote to make sure it was true. This testing makes the difference between a pile useless gibberish and a manual.

Thus, when you get something that appears to be documentation, stop and read it. Appearances are deceiving. Most “manuals”  are generated, not written, and never checked for accuracy or usability. Such “manuals” are as likely to increase your confusion as provide illumination.

I bought a PEN EP3 camera from Olympus. Seven months and hundreds of photographs later, it remains one of the mysteries of my world. It takes wonderful pictures, and it has hundreds of functions. I haven’t the slightest idea how to find most functions and have no idea what to do with them if I could find them.

I grew up in a pre-digital world. I know F-stop, depth-of-field, shutter speed, aperture and focus, film speed and composition. I have a good eye. I’m no genius, but my pictures are pretty and I enjoy taking them.

He solves the problem the way most do: Automatic everything, then shoot.

New digital cameras have a vast and overwhelming array of functions, most of which you or I will never use or need. I believe they are there entirely to impress us with the super high tech-ness of the equipment. I doubt that even the designers — especially the designers — expects us to actually use them. Which is good, because I don’t know what they are supposed to do anyhow or why I would need them. Ansel Adams didn’t need them. Neither did Edward Weston. Neither do I. But, the more you pay for a camera, the more of these obscure functions you get and I figure that the least they owe me is an explanation of what these setting do and how to find them.

I’m not sure whether to curse or say thank you. Maybe if Olympus provided a manual that explained these options, I’d be grateful, but that is not happening.

I spent half our shooting time trying to find the menu to change the ISO.

This is true of cameras, but the lack of documentation on your computer is actually worse … much worse because most of us depend on our computers. We need them to work and we need to have some control over the environment in which we work. Configuration of our computers to suit our needs is not a minor detail: it’s the difference between having a tool that does what you need and one which is a burden … an enemy with which you do daily battle.

I spent all last night — until dawn — trying to figure out how to turn off the touchscreen functions of my monitor. Before Mac users jump in and point out that it’s because Windows doesn’t work, that’s irrelevant and untrue. Windows works fine. It’s just that the company doesn’t provide any written documentation. There is embedded information in the operating system, but much of it isn’t logically arranged. It’s rather like looking for your car keys after you’ve dropped them someplace you don’t normally put them. You know they’re in the house, but where? It could be years before you find them..

On a new computer, you typically get an “introductory” video and that’s pretty much it. I watched it. It showed me in exquisite detail how to do what I already knew how to do.

Operating systems are designed to be used the way the system’s developers expect you to use it. If you prefer a different setup, trouble starts. The only way to figure out how to do something differently is to keep querying the system and hope you’ll stumble on the right  key word — the word that will bring up the information you need. What is most frustrating is that you are sure it IS there, but whether or not you will ever find it is a different issue.

If you are sufficiently persistent and a bit lucky, you will eventually find a mystery menu after which you fix your problem in a few seconds.

Last night, I searched, searched again and again. It didn’t call Dell because I knew the support person wouldn’t know the answer either. They pretty much never do.

So I tried one word combination after another, recombining them in the hope that it would lead to a menu buried in the system. There had to be a way to deactivate touch input.

Around 5 in the morning, I found it. It took me less than 30 seconds to eliminate the problem that had been driving me nuts since I got the computer. Now, it’s a monitor. A great, high-definition, 23-inch monitor that’s a joy to work on and makes photo editing a pleasure. No more configuration by crawling insect. I am mistress of my virtual world at last!

A technical writers earns less than an entry-level developer. I understand the guys in India who provide telephone tech support work cheap, but I bet a tech writer would cost less than a network of telephone support no matter how cheaply they work.

Assuming you are under warranty and you can get through the voice mail  maze … and further assuming you get someone who understands the problem and don’t get blown off because software is not part of your warranty (Note: If someone can tell me how, without using software, you can determine if you have a hardware problem, I’d like to hear it) … Round and around you go.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Would it blow the budget to hire a competent technical writer to embed online help that will live on even after the warranty period is over? Wouldn’t it be nice to help users avoid needless aggravation and not wind up with angry, frustrated, exhausted, and homicidal customers whose problems remain unsolved?

Granting that many home users have a limited understanding of how their computers work and for them, it wouldn’t much matter what documentation you supply. Most problems result from insufficient understanding of a product or process. If you are talking about a novice user, perhaps more information wouldn’t help. But …

I’m not inexperienced and I still can’t find essential information I need to configure my monitor. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect a menu on the control panel that I could use to configure the monitor’s capabilities, not merely its resolution but any other functions it may have. Functions not available on a particular model could be grayed out. How about that?

There is nothing wrong with my computer that better organized and easier to find information would not solve..

Every issue I’ve had over the last 5 or 6 years was ultimately fixed with a few clicks of the mouse. The problem was never something broken. It was always lack of documentation.

That pisses me off. Because tech writers — even highly experienced ones — work pretty cheap. Users do need documentation, and not just for software and computers. We need documents that let us use our cameras and telephones and DVD players and all those other pricey little devices that we own and often, don’t know how to use. Online FAQs are insufficient.

This is an old battle I’ve already lost. I know it’s hopeless. I find it infuriating that I can barely figure out my telephone without customer support, so rather than spend time on the phone with customer service, I don’t use anything I can’t easily configure.

I had to buy a separate book on how to use Photoshop and another for my first camera. I was able to get some help from a fellow user of my new camera, but that only goes so far. For my PEN P3 camera, there IS no customer support nor any after market book. I depend, as Blanche DuBois said, “… on the kindness of strangers.”.

My camera will remain a mystery until someone writes a “Dummies” book for it. Hopefully I’ll still own the it when the book finally gets published.

It’s not fair. The reason they get away with it is because we let them. Think about it.

So how did I finally figure it out? The “monitor” menu should have been a gateway, but was useless. The only thing you can the “Monitor” menu lets you do is lower your screen’s resolution. That’s useless.

Finally, I typed: Touchscreen.

Up came something that I hadn’t considered. Flicks. Now, for me? That means the movies. Having never used it, I had no idea it had anything to do with the monitor or its touchscreen technology. Once I got to “Flicks,”, I started opening menus and voilà, there were two check boxes allowing me to toggle an option:

  • Enable finger as pointing device.
  • Do not allow finger as pointing device.

I un-checked the first one by checking the second. I clicked “Apply.” As the sun rose in the east, my problem was solved and I went to bed, to sleep, perchance to dream  … of murder, destruction and vengeance.

ROKU – BETTER THAN EVER AND JUST AS CHEAP

Every once in a while, someone invents something that makes life a little brighter. 

Enter the Roku, a little streaming device that runs off your WiFi so you can stream movies, TV shows and other channels both free and subscription-based on your television. The price is right: the entry-level model is $49.99, and even the top of the line is less than $100, cheaper than a modest game system.

Roku-1

The Roku comes in different flavors though they all work the same way. Advanced models offer additional bells and whistles including an earphone connection through the remote control. In our case, there is no point in getting an advanced model. Both our television have just one high-definition port and it’s already in use by the cable box. Also, we have wireless Sennheiser headphones hook-ups for both televisions.

plugs roku and headphones

Roku is small, the size of a little bar of soap. Connecting is simple. I did it alone and despite a few humorous moments caused when I didn’t notice I’d accidentally turned off the power strip, it went smoothly. Roku is as easy to install as the ads promise. It works. And keeps working.

Plug A into B, B into C. Insert batteries (2 AAAs, included) into the remote. Turn on the TV and follow the prompts. The single item the instructions don’t cover is reminding you to switch your TV input to whatever input you are using for Roku. This was easy on the newer TV in the bedroom where inputs on the back of the set are labeled. The bigger (older) TV in the living room makes you guess, so you have to click through the inputs until Roku appears. Mostly, you need to know to take this step or you will sit there staring at an empty screen, wondering why you aren’t seeing Roku.

roku to TV + headphones

The instructions promise installing the Roku will bring out your inner geek. My inner geek is not hidden. I just don’t like hardware. In my secret heart, I believe electricity is waiting for the right moment to spill out of the walls. I don’t trust hardware and I believe the feeling is mutual.

Regardless, I set it up and by golly, it works. This was my second installation, so I’m two for two. Yay me. It took about half an hour, most of which involved getting the wires out of the way and finding a place to put Roku where it is accessible yet close enough to plug into a power strip. Compromise was required. I wish manufacturers would include longer power cords longer on electronic devices. They are all — including Roku — about a foot short of convenient.

Despite advertisements to the contrary, there are only few free services. Almost everything is either subscription (Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime) or pay-per-use (Blockbuster On Demand).

I was pleased to see that improvements have been made to the remote. The older version works, but it’s awkward and not very responsive.The newer unit has dedicated keys for major channels (nice!) and the unit is much more responsive. I wonder if I can get a newer remote for an older Roku? I’ll have to check.

The “search” capabilities are primitive using the remote, so search on a computer and put everything you want to watch on wish lists. Use the remote only to make selections. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to work. Be aware: You can’t install Roku without a computer. To activate your unit, you must enter a generated code from the television into your account on the computer. 

Closed captions are available on almost everything. Some old television series and movies don’t have them, but that’s true on cable too.

roku and headphones

Is Roku going to replace expensive movie packages from your cable or satellite company? Maybe. It depends on your viewing habits, your technical aptitude, creativity and how your cable company has structured their prices. They don’t make it easy to delete pieces of your package. However, if you currently can’t afford movie packages from your cable or dish provider, this is affordable and easy to use — as easy as they say it is and getting more versatile every day. You will find that Netflix streaming video does not include most popular movies. For that, you need to sign up for their DVD service too … and I won’t do it. I’m not really thrilled with Netflix, by the way. Just thought I’d mention that. I’m tempted to try a different streaming service to see if it’s any better. I’m an Amazon Prime member and while their free selection is smaller than Netflix, it is higher quality.

You need one Roku per television, but you don’t need a different account for each Roku. One account for a household, no matter how many televisions you have, is enough.

Roku is great addition to your entertainment package, especially for the price. It delivers the goods, is more than worth the money, whether you buy the economy model or top of the line. Whether or not it can replace other services is subjective.

WHAT’S WITH 1337?

What’s with the 1337 thing? WordPress uses it for a lot of things, for the top number in posts, in follows. I figured it must have some kind of historic significance to them, like the amount of money they had when they started the company, or maybe a time or maybe map coördinates.

Nope.

I looked it up. Whatever did we do before we had Google? Of course, before the internet, we would not be looking it up because this is the straight stuff: pure internet/gamer/hacker gibberish — er, slang. A bizarre distortion of language and a techno-geek in-joke.

72-1337-A

1337 means LEET,  a twisted version of the word “élite.” Which, over the years, has become internet slang for superior. Here’s the math: 1337 (1 – L, 3 – E, 7 – T) = LEET = ELITE.

This is supposed to be tres cool. Do you think it’s cool? I’m curious to hear what you think. I think it’s lame and annoying, but hey, I’m old. Definitely not one of the cool kids.

In fact, I’m not a kid at all.

REVIEW: THE DELL VENUE PRO 8 TABLET

After the Kindle HDX washed out, I had a hole where a small, portable web-capable device should be. With hospitalization soon, I wanted to be able to do small footprint basic computing. My laptop is great, but too big and heavy for a hospital bed.

I’ve been using the Dell Venue Pro 8 every day for the past few weeks. I no longer find myself shouting at it — big improvement. The real problems were solved when Dell installed new drivers. The rest of the issues have gone away as I’ve gotten to know the hardware and operating system.

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I remain underwhelmed by Windows 8. It offers no advantage over Windows 7, at least to customers. My son pointed out it offers value to Microsoft by making everything proprietary. It blocks you from using applications not made specifically for Windows 8. Considering the whole advantage to Windows has always been its universality, this is a strange, self-destructive direction for Microsoft. They have a new CEO. Let’s see if he gets the company back on a sensible course. Otherwise, this will likely be my last Windows device. Sad, after such a long relationship.

Technically, you can run standard Windows applications on any Windows 8 machine, tablet or otherwise. Practically speaking, it’s not true. Some things run. Most don’t. The Venue 8 only lets you install by download, which eliminates a lot of my software by default. Most of the other applications I use on Windows 7 don’t run on 8 — or run so poorly it isn’t worth the effort. It’s ironic. Just as Apple is opening up their platform to all kinds of applications, Microsoft has gone the other way.

The tablet’s native software runs well. The email app is fine. IE runs smoothly. You better like IE because you won’t be using Firefox or Chrome — neither runs on the tablet. I’m not a big gamer, so the lack of games doesn’t bother me as much as it aggravates others, but still. Aside from Solitaire, there are no games. You can’t even get a download of Scrabble. That’s rough.

Photography apps? None worth the effort. I won’t be taking a lot of pictures using the onboard camera (which works pretty well), or uploading photographs to the tablet — even for viewing. There’s no USB port, no slot for an SD card other than one micro card which is an extension slot for memory.

If you want to play games, read books, watch movies, listen to music? The Kindle Fire HD (the old version, not the HDX), is just $139 from Amazon. It’s a far better choice for entertainment. Not as good for email and other Internet activities … but for entertainment, it’s a winner.

The Dell Venue Pro 8 is solidly built. It feels great in hand. It seamlessly connected to Netflix. Watching movies is easy. You can listen to music on Amazon’s Cloud Player, but it’s not straightforward. Microsoft really wants you to use its own software … but I find it confusing, complicated and lacking documentation or instructions, ultimately incomprehensible. It’s inexcusable to provide so little support.

The (free) copy of MS Office installed without a hitch. I don’t know if I’ll get out much use from it. That’s not what I bought the tablet for. I found a bunch of other useful small applications. Solitaire, a clock, calendar, alarm and stopwatch and installed them without incident. I uninstalled a few things too. Installation and uninstallation is really easy. And fast. If only there were more apps!

The speakers are great, though not terribly loud. Which is fine. I can use earphones if I need it louder. For such a little tablet, the graphics are fantastic. I watched “Jack Reacher” on Netflix and enjoyed it. My website looks great.

The cameras (1 front, 1 back) work but the lack of editing software limits their usefulness. It would be okay for Skyping — probably — but I don’t Skype, so it’s moot. The video camera seems fine as does the voice recorder, though I have little use for either.

It’s got a lot of bells and whistles, some of which I might use yet it’s missing important basic tools. Not being able to edit its own photos is bad, but not being able to upload my photos at all? Worse. All for the want of a USB port.

It’s good for reading (Kindle and maybe other reader apps), watching a movie on Netflix. I don’t know about other services but you can’t watch Amazon Prime. Or I can’t figure out how.

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It’s good for quick emails. I’m disinclined to write much on a virtual keyboard. I can  do small amounts of web editing but wouldn’t want to do more. But not because the tablet won’t. It loads this website fast and switches to editing mode with no problem.

The Venue Pro 8 is too small for web editing. It’s too small for a lot of things. My son has a 10″ device and he can do a lot more. The “OK” boxes and other targets on-screen are tiny. Even using a stylus, I miss as often as I hit. Fine editing is out of the question. That is not the fault of the tablet. I chose this size. I knew it would have limitations. I was right.

There are no after market accessories — yet. Well,  there’s one, but it doesn’t work. I bought a secondary market keyboard — blue tooth — and returned it. It wasn’t broken, but you had to enter a generated key code. You couldn’t see the code because the virtual keyboard popped up and blocked it. By the time you got the keyboard out of the way, the code was gone. The codes are good for only 30 seconds. I don’t understand why they designed it like that. Just provide a printed code. Why make me jump through hoops to sync a keyboard?

Dell sells a keyboard that apparently works, but it’s $99. Too expensive. I’ll do without. I don’t know how well any blue tooth accessory will install. If it includes a “time out” code, it won’t. It’s a tactical rather than technical problem, but it stopped me.

If anyone wants to point out how I could use my iPhone, may I remind you I find an 8″ tablet too small. Do you think the iPhone would be better? Think before commenting.

Summary

What I like:

  • Great graphics
  • Excellent sound
  • Good camera and video (but no editing tools)
  • Free Microsoft Office, email and other workaday stuff
  • Fine build
  • No problem loading websites
  • Fast boot time; almost instant
  • Long battery life and short recharging cycle
  • Comes with a charger.

What I don’t like:

  • No USB port
  • No SD card slot
  • The cord is too short. Really, would it have broken the bank to add a foot and make it reach my desk from the electrical outlet? Serious inconvenience
  • No documentation. The PDF is just generated data. Useless
  • Windows 8.1 sucks
  • The graphical Interface feels like a bunch of pieces stuck together without a cohesive concept.

Related articles:

DELL VENUE PRO 8 TABLET – UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL | Serendipity

TECH SUPPORT – WHERE “BAD” IS THE NEW “GOOD”

Bad customer and technical support is the new good. You only think it’s bad. The problem is your attitude. Or so they’d have you think.

YOU CAN RUN, BUT YOU CAN’T HIDE

Death cust servAll the big technology companies are working hard to save a few bucks. The competition is fierce. Every penny counts. Since executives won’t accept lower pay nor will stockholders accept lower returns, it’s customers who fill the cost-cutting gap.

In the race to be the cheapest, tech companies stopped including chargers with devices. No manuals. No system software. No reinstallation software. Short power cords that don’t go from an outlet to a desktop. No connector for printers, speakers or whatever. Everything you need to finish setting up costs extra.

Customer service was the first thing to go. They hired people who don’t know anything, don’t understand or speak English. For all I know, they don’t understand or speak Spanish either. They aren’t trained, don’t know the products. And since manufacturers no longer include documentation, you don’t have the option of taking care of it yourself.

No company — not cameras, computers or software — includes documentation. I became obsolete years ago when the industry decided no one reads the manuals. So they fired the tech writers, put some generated information in an online PDF. They figured customer service techs would handle the fallout. But they don’t. Many of us would be happy to fix minor glitches but have no alternative to spending our time on the phone, frustrated and angry.

THE PLAN IN ACTION

You can’t say they didn’t have a plan. The big corporations indeed had a plan. A bad one.Customer Service waiting

It was so bad, it was immediately adopted by everyone. Globally.

It’s not a Microsoft problem, a Dell problem, or any company’s individual problem, though some are more awful than others and a few are notorious. It’s a cross-industry problem, affecting virtually every organization in this country.

Bad is the new good. Because good is remarkable.

WOULD IT KILL THEM TO INCLUDE A MANUAL?

CustServCartoon In every industry, business, service — service support stinks. It doesn’t matter where you go. You’ll get the same lousy service. It’s the great leveler.

Sometimes, you get lucky. The guy or gal you connect with actually knows the product and you think “Wow, that wasn’t bad! Maybe it’s improving.” The next time, it’s the same old, same old.

AMAZON – THE BRIGHT SPOT

There is a bright spot. Amazon and Audible (a subsidiary of Amazon) still have terrific customer service. That could change any time on the whim of a company exec, but for now, it’s great.

It’s no accident I shop through Amazon. They offer really good service. You have a problem, they go out of their way to make it right. You need to return something? They don’t question you, make you jump through hoops.

I wish I could buy everything from them.

DELL VENUE PRO 8 TABLET – UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

Not long ago, I chronicled my adventure with Dell Customer Disservice and Dell Technical nonSupport. A few days later, I wrote ASK A SIMPLE QUESTION, GET A SIMPLE — WRONG — ANSWER. The following day, my Dell Venue Pro 8 tablet arrived. Such a little package. Well, what did I expect? It’s just a wee bit bigger than a Kindle.

dell-venue-8-pro

Why Do I Always Have Be the Fixer?

Yesterday was computer fixing day. My son used to be a professional computer repair guy but has apparently forgotten everything he ever knew. He handed me his laptop. Seven hours later, it was running pretty well, though it could use a full reload of the OS which I’m not going to do. Still, I think it’s at least a working computer.

With all the jokes they make about Old People and computers, how come I’m the ONLY one in this 3-generation household who understands how computers work? How come, huh? I wanted to beat the kid (all 6’4″ 240 lbs of nearly bald 44-year-old kid) to death with that 15″ laptop. I’m definitely getting old and cranky.

Back to the Review (Already In Progress)

The Dell Venue Pro 8 is well-built. It has a lovely, solid, silky feel. It easily connected to the Kindle application and Netflix. Without a hiccup. Chrome, on the other hand, would not work and I gave up. Some battles aren’t worth the effort. The (free) copy of MS Office installed without a hitch too. Eventually I found a variety of other useful applications, a reasonable version of Solitaire, a clock, calendar, alarm and stopwatch and installed them too. I uninstalled a few things I didn’t have any use for. Installation and uninstallation is really easy. And fast.

The tablet wasn’t working quite as it should. It dropped its Internet connection each time it went to sleep and it wasn’t sensitive enough to touch.

This meant – OMG!!!! – another call to Dell’s tech support. I didn’t hesitate. I have learned that thinking about it will make the inevitably horrible experience even worse. Moreover, I have no intention of keeping the tablet if it isn’t going to work properly.

The problems weren’t big ones, but they were annoying. Mostly I like the tablet. Good speakers, exceptional graphics. Watched “Jack Reacher” on Netflix. Not bad. The sound isn’t as loud as I might like, but the quality is excellent and it has an earphone jack. The cameras (1 front, 1 back) work pretty well, even in low light. I haven’t tried the video camera or the voice recorder yet. Overall, it’s got a lot of bells and whistles I might really use (be still my heart).

Tech Support Again (Oy)

I am not going to go into details. Suffice to say, I was on the phone with this doofus for 4-1/2 hours. When the conversation started I had 2 relatively minor issues. After he fixed things (reinstalling the drivers, etc.), the tablet was dead. Unresponsive. He said he wanted to try one more thing. It was getting late, past dinner time and I said, “No, I’ve had enough. Either you put me on with someone who actually knows what needs to be done and can speak English well enough for us to understand each other (this guy not only didn’t speak English, he didn’t understand it either) or I swear I will return this tablet to Dell, explain that YOU are the reason why and never, ever buy anything from Dell again in this lifetime.” Which, if I didn’t get my blood pressure under control, might not be very long.

He threw in the towel and passed me to a Supervisor. Who spoke and understood English. And knew how to get the tablet up and running.

The secret of getting a dead Windows 8 computer up and running is 3 successive cold reboots. Third time, it goes into “self-repair and diagnostic mode” — the new version of Safe Mode.  Which doesn’t require a password. So finally, I was able to adjust the setting after which it began to connect automatically to WiFi. Problem solved.

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Next, I insisted I make the table NOT password protected. Which is when I discovered Windows 8.1 is still — as all Windows have been — a hack over DOS. It was comforting in a weird way. There was the old DOS prompt in its little black window, like an old friend. It meant I was not really learning a new OS. I was just learning to work around the changed GUI. I felt better.

Eliminating Password Protection

For anyone who wants to get rid of password protection in Windows 8.1, here’s how to do it:

(1) Use Search to find the command prompt. Start typing “Command” and before you hit the second “m,” you’ll see command prompt as a clickable link. Click it.

(2) Type: control userpasswords2

(3) Up comes a little window, a little window you’ve seen on every version of Windows since 3.1.

(4) UNCHECK “require all users to have a password,” then enter your password as requested. Exit all the way out and reboot. That should do it. Sometimes you have to do it twice.

Win 8.1 has the identical sub-structure as every version of Windows. Control panel, menus, SysConfig, Uninstall. It’s all there, buried a level deeper under a new — pointless and unattractive — user interface. You can change the interface using “Personalize” and make it less ugly.

My over all opinion of Windows 8.1 remains unchanged. It is not an improvement over 7. If anything, it’s a step backward. It requires significant relearning without offering any noticeable advantage to users. After you get the hang of it, it’s not hard to work with, but it’s unnecessary and adds an unfamiliar layer to what ought to be simple.

Summary

What I like:

  • Great graphics
  • Excellent sound
  • Surprisingly good camera and video
  • Useful apps that work and most of them are free
  • Feels nice to the touch with a fine build quality
  • Good battery life.

What I don’t like:

  • The cord is much too short. Really, would it have broken the bank to add a foot and make it reach my desk from the electrical outlet? This is a serious inconvenience, not a quibble
  • Horrible documentation. I’ve seen the PDF and it isn’t much more informative than the leaflet. It’s not that Win 8 is difficult. The documentation is totally inadequate
  • I don’t like Windows 8.1. Now that I can use it, it’s a lot of flash and dash. It isn’t an improvement over Windows 7 — quite the opposite. Sorry dudes. I still don’t understand why you took a good OS (Win 7) and made it harder to use
  • The graphical Interface is neither tablet or user-friendly. It doesn’t feel integrated or smooth. More like a bunch of pieces stuck together without a cohesive concept.