Audio: an important part of our interactions with technology. Whether it’s your daily companion device, or at home with your other electronics, good sound comes at a price, perhaps often a little too much! In this series of articles I will attempt to introduce budget solutions for different scenarios based on my experience over the years.
I’ve tried perhaps hundreds of earphones (in-ear headphones) in the past decade! We get so many of them in different situations. In a rush at an airport, or desperate to listen to your music while out and having forgotten your existing one…solution: just grabbing the cheapest you find and it will get lost sooner or later. I don’t think we care much for them. Those who do, step it up by going to the next level and above the £50 mark where you can find some pretty decent offerings. But what if you just want something cheap & good? It doesn’t have to last forever, but while it does, it makes worth your while. I never thought I will find one, but after years of a passive search, I think I have finally struck gold.. Well, not exactly gold..maybe silver!
Panasonic RPTCM125EK Headphone (with Microphone), if you don’t mind the in-ear design, is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Priced at £11 from Amazon (US RRP $19.99,) they won’t break your bank while providing an ergonomic and comfortable design. The sound is very clear and balanced, and it fits firmly in your ears so you won’t have to worry about it slipping out now and then. Since it seats a little deeper than your average earphone (or buds!), it also does a better job of sound isolation. It comes with an inline microphone, which is pretty average, housing a button for play/pause or answering calls that works nicely with most smartphones.
It’s not without an issues or two however, with the main downside being the cord. If Panasonic updates this line with a flat tangle free alternative, then they will have a real winner.
RPTCM125EK is also available in different colours. If you don’t need the microphone there’s another model lacking so which is even cheaper.
+ Good clear sound
+ Ergonomic design
– Tangle bound cord
– Average microphone
Ok! Let me make sure I’m back in the realm of reality first…yes.. It appears so!
The story of Toru Okada, and his unexpected journey battling a new kind of darkness, is the longest and most thrilling of Murakami yet! What an engaging and interesting tale and Murakami delivers once again.
Having read seven of his other books, there are a lot of patterns and similarities starting to find shape in my mind. This is not a bad thing and there are still so many innovations, surprises and twists that make “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” anything but predictable. There’s a sense of more maturity in the way the events unfold and the outcome of things that I feel comes from the author’s change of view on life as he is aging. It feels, to me, that the laws of reality are creeping into his imaginations.
I especially enjoyed how he was experimenting with different time lines, some of which neither involved the protagonist directly nor actually occurred. They were but the creations of other characters’ minds and we break away from Toru’s narration through them.
There are so many characters in this book all connected together, although it may not appear on the surface. They inform each other beautifully and peel away from the mysteries surrounding Toru, who is often kept in the dark often even more than the reader! You wish you could whisper quietly to him “hey! you are not alone!” but at the end he doesn’t need anyone’s help once he accepts his fate.
As with other Murakami’s books, I feel a little sad to have reached the end. I wish I could stay in his fascinating mind a little longer… or perhaps there’s no time to waste! To the next!
The dream of being able to wirelessly stream or mirror content from any device you are holding to a bigger screen, has been chased by many of us over the years. It’s somewhat strange that despite all the technological advances made, specially in the past decade, there is still no unified system in place that can satisfy this thirst! Not only that, there are practically no complete solutions around even for a closed ecosystem! From Apple AirPlay to Google Chromecast or even the Microsoft Wireless adapter, none will answer all your demands. The best you can do is to pick and choose and use each device for a specific purpose.
When I came across Airtame on Indiegogo back in January 2014, I saw a potential in a device that was aiming for a cross platform solution. Although soon they realised they can’t provide screen mirroring for all devices due to the software limitation imposed by the big names, particularly in mobile, this Copenhagen based startup still had some interesting features that got my attention and I supported their campaign. My understanding was this is targeted for enterprise, company meetings and corporate use, but I was also curious to see how it will handle media streaming.
The device came out with the usual delays these crowdfunded projects seem to face, but nevertheless it was eventually shipped to the backers with BETA status. It’s nicely designed and uses a mini USB input to power up. The initial impression was not very good. The software was very patchy and so did the firmware. It was terribly slow and it got very frustrating very quickly. Media streaming was simply out of the question at this point.
I tried it again a few times within a 3 months window. Some updates were released and things got slightly better, but still it wasn’t reliable and seemed too much effort for so little result.
I wasn’t disappointed as I expected this to be the case for a newly released product and as an early adapter, you’ve already opted in to be a beta tester! It however was encouraging to see they were continuing to work on the software and performance. Almost a year later I revisited the little dongle to see what’s new and for the first time I could see the signs of maturity in Airtame.
The software was no longer confusing and unreliable and with a sleek UI and an easy to use set-up process, the interaction was taken to a much more streamlined experience. The streaming speed in the auto mode was great and perfectly adequate for presentations and meetings. This is the area where Airtame can really shine due to a full desktop mirroring support for Mac, Windows & Linux, also with the added benefit of everyone just being able to stream to any number of the Airtames within the local WIFI network or directly to them. There are also apps for mobile providing some limited streaming options that could be used for presentations.
Airtame modern UI
Next step was the media streaming and as expected Airtame was not able to handle it and I don’t think it ever will. Even connecting to the device directly to avoid the possible WIFI network performance issues, the frame rate was slow. Setting to a higher quality would simply render it completely unusable making me wonder why there are even such options in place, maybe for a next generation device?. One positive to mention here is when set to auto, although the frame rate drops, it manages to keep the audio synced to the image pretty successfully, so if you find yourself forced to play a video clip in a presentation, it could just barely pass.
The desktop application can still be refined further. Right now there’s a nice modern UI to control the streaming with access to some settings over the quality, but to see the advanced settings a new window will pop up. I think it will be better if all settings are contained within the more modern UI.
The dongle discovery still seems a bit patchy and you have to enter the ip address manually sometimes. While the performance is significantly better, there are still occasional disconnects and freezes.
Is Airtam the WIFI hdmi dongle of the future? I don’t think so, but it does provide a pretty good solution for a specific section of the market and it does it well. I’m sure the performance will be even more improved over the time and there’s a lot of room for Airtame to grow and increase it’s market share in other areas such as education.
Airtame streaming connected to a portable USB power brick
There’s a very interesting exhibition currently running at London Design Museum called “Designs of the Year 2015”. It’s a showcase of outstanding designs of the past year in 6 categories of architecture, digital,fashion, graphics, product and transport. It will be there until late August and it’s well worth a visit. I won’t get into much details as there’s a very comprehensive website with everything you need to know, but as I was walking around I started taking some notes on what a good design should be. I found the exhibition very inspiring and made me want to design something right away!. Here are some of my notes;
A good design:
1- Functions well
2- Easy to use
3- Understands the manufacturing process
4- Ingeniously uses the available materials
5- Easily affordable
6- Requires limited skills to make
7- Changes the way we live
8- Solve problems
9- Reflects innovation
10- Responds to its’ era
11- (allows to) Express individuality
12- Provokes debates
13- Open minded and not tied down to what’s established
14- Has clean and bold outlines
15- Understands the user
16- Captures the critical spirit without designing out the fun
17- Doesn’t obscure the function
18- Helps people re think things
19- Reflects past, present and future
20- Brings drama and magic
21- Has everyday impact
22- Touches emotions
This was one of the most bizarre reading experiences I’ve had in my life. I hated this book! then I loved it and hated it again to fall in love with it all over again a few chapters later! After a while though I realised it was reminding me of the parts of myself I didn’t understand, or like and the memories that I hated not the book! Although hate might be a strong word for it, I guess it was just stirring up some strong emotions in me. It made me feel so many things and remember things I had completely forgotten! And some chapters just made my tears flowing for no apparent reason. I read it over three days! picked it up on a Friday evening and finished it just past midnight on Sunday..putting it down was not an option! and I was hoping it would go on forever!… and then watched the film right after but I fell asleep! then suddenly woke up in 5 a.m. and continued watching… somewhere then I didn’t know whether I’m awake or sleep, whether I’m still reading the book or watching a film, whether I’m there with Toru, Naoko, Kizuke and the rest, or merely an observer of this fictional world that felt so real thanks to the meticulous descriptions of everything painting such a vivid image in my head. I was fully absorbed by the words, as if the book was reading me! sounds crazy when I’m writing about it now!
Listening to the soundtrack of the movie on a sleepy Monday, I found myself still wandering in that world, wanting to just leave work and go for a very very long walk to think about everything and nothing! I think I will go on to read another Murakami book soon!
p.s. I listened to “The Beatles – Norwegian Wood” about 500 times afterwards! and this was a song I had never listened to!
Fuji lenses are absolutely amazing and amongst the best I’ve ever used, but the price tag is high enough that even with some truly great promotions they do, for a hobbyist photographer like me, they remain mostly unreachable. I’ve managed to secure two Fujinon prime lense; 35&18mm, both superb in built quality and performance, but I wanted to get more out of my X-E1, and later on X-T1 and experiment with other lenses.
There’s always the 2nd hand option, but it is still hard to justify paying that much money without any financial returns, not to mention there are not many Fuji second hand lenses out there!, which led me to the third options; old vintage lenses! Any good lens from a famous brand will still have a red price tag on it regardless of it’s age, but there is a market where it is possible to collect 2-3 decent lense for under £100! Old Russian and Japanese lenses from companies no longer in play or transitioned to completely to digital i.e. completely discontinued products have a massive market on eBay! Thanks to Fuji cameras playing nice with these lense with providing good manual focus options, they just fit right in and a £15 lens is producing some excellent results. I admit I’m not very fussy when it comes to colour/contrast rendering, chromatic aberration or distortion and as long as I’m happy with the overall quality, I can look the other way and ignore the imperfections or often enjoy some.
After a little research I decided to get into m42 lenses mainly from the price standpoint. A decent adapter was cheap and a good range of lenses were available. Also I did experiment with a couple of C-Mount lenses, including CCTV and cinematic lenses. Fuji has a standard adapter for leica lenses but who can afford a Leica anyway! In this series of articles I’m going to review my m42 lenses ,and others when I come across them, used with Fuji X-E1 and X-T1. This is not going to be a very scientific approach, I’m mainly interested in providing sample photos in different conditions, what I found to be widely missing when trying to decide what lens to buy. There is quiet an extensive database of http://m42lens.com/ but sadly it doesn’t provice any sample photos.
Helios 28mm f2.8
The first lens I tested on my X-E1, with a basic M42 to Fuji X-mount adapter, was Helios 28mm f2.8. I was looking forward to it very much but unfortunately I was not really impressed with the result. I bought it on eBay for £20 including P&P; for that price this lens was absolutely worth it!
Helios (or Ге́лиос in Russian) is a brand of camera lenses, made in the USSR. and currently discontinued.
This is a very average lens.The widest aperture being f2.8, it won’t provide crazy bokeh, but the shape of the defocused areas are very pleasant. It does create a lot of blooming and axial chromatic aberration on the highlights, but as expected the closer the aperture the sharper everything gets. I sold the lens a year after bundled up with my X-E1.
There’s really not much to say about it! It’s the kind of the lens that performs well on a bright day for stationary subjects, it does the job and provides a very good focal length on small size sensors (became 42mm on my X-E1), but it’s doesn’t have anything special about it!. See some of the sample photos in the gallery below:
This review contains spoilers.
This is perhaps one of the easiest books to write an outline for! A mentally handicapped person or as the book refer to, retard, goes through an operation that makes him intelligent, but the side effect is he will lose it all very soon with possible regression to a more inferior mental state than the beginning. Yet this outline reflects so little of how detailed and complex the story is.
You know that feeling of relief and accomplishment when you finish a book? I usually get it after completing a read, but after Flowers for Algernon I felt anything but. Not only I wanted the story to go on, even though I have a pretty clear picture of what is likely to happen to the protagonist, Charlie, I wanted to remain in his world, or more precisely, his mind.
Many stories are told through the main characters words, but in this case this had such a profound effect since it made Charlie’s journey through the different mental states more emphasised and so strongly felt. It even got horrifying for me towards the end to witness his downfall, as if I was walking side by side him unable to do anything.
This book made me think a lot about human behaviour, how we see and treat each other, and how much we hide in our minds. It’s as if we all have multiple personalities that manifest themselves in different situations and what a relief it will to be able to have only one, be one. Maybe some people are like that I don’t know.
I hope Charlie managed to keep enough of his wits to make him happy, and someone is still putting some flowers on Algernon’s grave.
A few days ago I watched a very interesting documentary on the renowned Japanese animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli. I am a big animation fan and no other form of entertainment engages my imagination so vividly, but I can’t even begin to describe how I feel about Ghibli animations and especially the work of one of its founders and master animators Hayao Miyazaki.
Miyazaki’s work makes me feel so many things all at once that is so overwhelming I enter a hypothesized state! It takes me far back to the memories I had completely forgotten and then much further back to the memories I never had! In a way it creates new memories! sounds pretty insane I know! and I’m out of words for describing how much I love and admire their work.
I can’t recall the details but somehow I came across a copy of Spirited Away around 2003 and little did I know my world will never be the same. Since then I have been a devoted fan and watched all their animations multiple times and still do! I doubt I will ever get tired of them! It’s kind of the place I go when I need to escape reality. Needless to say it was devastating to hear the news of Miyazaki’s retirement earlier in the year and the unclear fate of the studio. Fortunately a good friend found about this documentary that was screened at ICA for a limited time and it provided for some most needed Ghibli time in these desperate days!
The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2013) provides an unprecedented access to the behind scenes of Studio Ghibli as Miyazaki is working on his last masterpiece The Wind Rises, in a time when his colleague, and in some point mentor, Isao Takahata is also directing his possible farewell work The Tale of The Princess Kaguya.
Directed and edited and even filmed by Mami Sunada, the documentary looks into the history of the studio, its founders and the main figures but keeps the focus on Miyazaki and the production of The Wind Rises, from storyboarding to the finished film. There are some amazing moments as the camera finds its way into every corner and meetings in the studio to witness some invigorating discussions, as if the camera is one of people there and no one is aware of it, which adds a very nice sense of realism to the whole thing.
We see and hear a lot from Miyazaki, how he works, what he thinks and how he sees the world as he is accompanied through his daily rituals. If you’re a Ghibli fan, this is such a treasure toehold! But even for those less familiar with the studio it will make for a fascinating watch. Never before anyone has been granted such access to the studio and Miyazaki himself and I doubt anyone will ever now, which makes this a unique and important piece of film making and something that I’m glad has happened to provide generations to come with an insight to what is beyond the doubt one of (or for me the one) the most amazing animation students in the history. The film finished on such a beautiful and meaningful shot that I’m not going to spoil here for anyone who hasn’t seen it! It’s well worth the watch.
The only thing I would have liked to see more about was on the relationship between Miyazaki and his son Gorō Miyazaki, who is one of the directors at the studio. He only appears in one scene in a discussion with a couple of producers.
It still feels me with deep sadness to think there is a good chance of not having any more Ghibli animations, but as my friend tells me everytime I bring this up, we should be grateful for what we already have, and what a wonderful gift that is indeed.