Going Mirrorless. Switching from Canon to Olympus

The photography community is going through yet another sea change driven by technology. The first big adjustment happened when digital cameras got good enough to replace film. This was primarily driven by DSLR’s becoming price and performance competitive with analog cameras, and the entire industry pivoted to digital.

The next wave is the move from DSLR to mirrorless technology. This is fairly recent – technically the earliest digital cameras were ‘mirrorless’ in that they didn’t have the internal mechanisms that SLR’s have (and thus were considered inferior in many ways). But recently mirrorless cameras with sensor and lens ecosystems as good as professional (and ‘prosumer’) cameras have been gaining popularity, and it’s become pretty apparent that the DSLR’s days are numbered.

I went whole hog into DSLR land after taking pictures for many years with ‘point and shoot’ digital cameras. My first DSLR was a Canon Digital Rebel XTi (nee ‘400D’), and later a Canon 70D. I continued using both through weddings, portrait shoots, event photography, etc, enjoying the quality and ‘feel’ of the platform.

Eventually I realized I was using my camera less because of it’s bulkiness, and the fact that I was already carrying a pretty decent camera in my pocket. My cell phone camera was, to use the well worn phrase, the best camera you can have (ie, “the one you have with you”). I was using my phone camera for snapshots, shooting subjects I was interested in in the moment, etc, but my pictures stopped being ‘art’, and started just being ‘documenting’. I’m not interested in just being another snapshot phone cam photographer. I want to make beautiful images, and while some of that is possible with a cell phone, I wanted better. It was clear I wasn’t using my Canon (though I carry it in my camera-enabling backpack a lot) because it was heavy, bulky, and unwieldy. Hauling out 2 pounds of camera to take a picture of the beautiful sky or a street at night was just becoming a hassle.

Time to look at mirrorless cameras.

Canon had already been working on a mirrorless line, with the M50 and the M6 bodies. They were relatively expensive, and the reviews were okay, if not exciting. If I was going to invest in an entire new camera platform (and lets be clear, when you replace your camera, you’re also replacing all the accessories – lenses, flashes, etc – you’ve gotten for the old platform), I wanted it to be something I was excited about, and had a good ecosystem behind it.


I was attracted to the Micro Four Thirds family of lenses (referred to as ‘m43’ or ‘m4/3’ or ‘MFT’ by the technorati – I just use m43). There seemed to be a lot of support for the platform among many manufacturers, so I started focusing on what platforms were around. My attention was drawn to the Olympus PEN series of cameras – these cameras go back to the late 1950’s, and are easily recognizable in their styling and form factor. Olympus has made digital versions of the PEN cameras for a few years, but only recently have they gone all out and made a high end digital mirrorless version that supports the M43 lens platform, all in the same form factor.

And it looks cool as hell.

After reading many reviews and details online, I took the plunge, and ordered the camera. Because I knew I’d be banging it around a lot, I also added a very nice retro looking leather case for it, as well as a few extra lenses with associated filters, including a 25mm F/1.8 (what is equivalent to the standard 50mm fixed lens on most DSLRs), since much of my style works with shallow depth of field shots.

I received the camera just before a trip to California, so I basically bundled everything into a bag and got on the plane. My first real experience using the camera was during some walkarounds in San Francisco.

First impressions

San Francisco, March, 2018,

It’s small. In some ways, the camera feels a bit like a toy, but only because I’m so used to handling a large bulky device. Once I got past the size issues, the camera is pleasant to use. Fast on the shutter, good autofocus and it makes nice decisions about auto settings. I’m avoiding fiddling the manual modes for a while, because the manual is ENORMOUS, and there’s a lot to get through. I did change the autofocus setting to be a sort of hybrid manual mode. You can set it to autofocus for you, then you can manually adjust the focus off the initial setting via the lens ring. Handy.

I immediately ran into a problem where the camera would lock up after several shots. No amount of on/off, button pushing, closing / opening the display or anything would cause it to come back to life – and it would get HOT, draining the battery very quickly. It was obviously stuck in some software loop. Popping the battery out and back in cause it to reboot, and I could continue shooting, but having to do this every 3-4 shots was frustrating. Turns out it was a known firmware bug that was fixed in version 2.0. Olympus provides a (remarkably well written) download / update tool to upgrade the camera via a USB cable. Once the firmware was updated, no more lockups. Hooray!

The next thing I had to overcome was the viewfinder. Because this camera is not an SLR, which shows you, via the viewfinder, exactly what the camera sensor will see when it takes the picture, The PEN-F has a secondary digital display within the viewfinder that shows you what the sensor will see, but obviously at a much lower resolution. It has the advantage of showing you all the details you’ll need to know about the shot (ISO, aperture, exposure, battery life, storage information, etc), and has a neat presentation style after you take the shot (you half press the shutter button to set focus, then full press to shoot, just like most cameras… On the next press, you get a very fast preview of the last shot taken – about 1/4 second, but it lets you know what the last shot looked like. I found this extremely useful when taking multiple shots in a row, to understand if the last shot was focused right, got what i needed, etc). The digital viewfinder has drawbacks though. It doesn’t come on until the camera senses your face is near the display, so there’s a noticeable delay before the image comes on. This can be disconcerting. The display is a low resolution version of the actual photo you’ll be taking, and because it’s a luminous version of the shot, the colors and values can feel ‘off’ – this isn’t a reflective version of what your lens would see, it’s a replayed version of reality using glowing pixels. It has a very different feel, and takes some getting used to.

The back of the camera has a flip out high resolution touch sensitive display that is great for replays, working through the (VAST) menu system, or doing maintenance on the camera. The display can be folded out, flipped over, and hidden, which is how I prefer to shoot – I don’t like having a sensitive glass display open to being banged about in my bag. The menus and environment were snappy and easy to navigate, but the menu system is quite deep and detailed. I’ve had to refer to the manual and to online forums several times to find things buried in the multilevel menu system.

The PEN-F does have wifi support, and it looks to be much better than the Canon configurations (which I found all but useless). For now I’m using SD cards to move content from the camera to my Mac running Lightroom. I’ll try the wifi process at some point, but or now it’s something that’s not on my hot list.

So, how does it perform?

So far, I’m exceptionally pleased with the quality of shots coming off it. First, working with the fixed 25mm lens has been an experience pretty much dead on with my work with the standard ‘nifty fifty’s. The lens is fast and responsive, and handles light just fine. The focal depth is about what I’d expect for a fixed lens of this size, and the form factor is just right. In my bag, the entire assembly is hardly noticeable compared to my bulky 70D.

Olympus also offers a 150mm (300mm equivelent) ‘long lens’ for an extremely reasonable price (I got mine for $99). I recognized I wanted to do long lens shots, so picked up the 150mm, and let me tell you, I was not disappointed. Motion on the lens is excellent, and I was able to ‘snipe’ profile shots at a big social gathering beautifully. I also took this lens to a soccer practice, and was very pleased with the quality of shots coming out of the system.

925 grams
650 grams

So, lets talk physical comparisons for a bit.

The obvious part is – the Olympus is small. Roughly half the size of the Canon equipment. This makes it much easier to carry around and not have it be a burden. Batteries, camera body, lenses, associated gear, all half the weight, for roughly the same performance.

Weight wise, I compared the Canon 70D with a 1.8mm 50mm lens against the Olympus PEN-F with a 25mm 1.8 lens. The Canon weighed in at 925 grams, and the Olympus was 650 grams, putting the Canon setup about 50% heavier than the Olympus. That’s a pretty significant change.

In short, the Olympus is smaller, lighter, and easier to work with than the Canon, with comparable performance.

What about picture quality?

Easter Egg Hunt

I’m not the worlds greatest photographer. In fact, I’d argue I’m somewhere in the ‘meh’ to ‘okay’ department. Sometimes I luck out, and sometimes something I’m really trying to capture happens as I envisioned it. I love the work I create, and want to get better, but I know I have a lot to learn. Having said that, I don’t think i’ve come anywhere close to pushing the 70D or the PEN-F to their capability limits, so while some may argue the PEN-F has this or that deficiency or advantage over the 70D, that’s not really what is going to impact my work. I got the camera because I felt I needed something more portable, lighter, and easier to work with, which would encourage me to get out and shoot more. I believe in that I’ve succeeded.

San Francisco, March, 2018

I’ve done some street photography (which I enjoy), and have been super happy with the results. I’ve taken it out for your typical day of touristy fun, and I’ve shot portraits. I’ve used it at a soccer game for sports photography. In all these settings, it’s performed well and I’ve been happy with the results.

Wrapping it up – Conclusions and thoughts

After a month with the new camera, I have to say I’m pretty satisfied. The form factor, the picture quality, and the performance has been great. I won’t lie, part of my attraction to the camera was how it looks and feels. It’s got a retro affect that I find attractive and interesting. Very little of the styling is ‘there just for show’ – it’s all functional and useful (okay, maybe the on-camera post-effects set via a dial on the front of the body are a little strange), but overall, the controls are effective, well placed, and functinal.

I’m fully committed to using the PEN-F as my primary shooter. There’s no reason I’d need to bring my 70D with me for 98% of my photowalks or other events. Am I getting rid of my 70D? Probably not – having a second body is very handy for events and paid gigs. I’ll probably work with both cameras for weddings where having two cameras set up with different lenses is needed.

Curta Type 1 Handheld Calculator

Anyone who deals in collecting older computers, or heck even if you have just a few few nerd bits, has probably seen or heard about these calculators.

According to the Wikipedia article,

“The Curta was conceived by Curt Herzstark in the 1930s in Vienna, Austria. By 1938, he had filed a key patent, covering his complemented stepped drum, Deutsches Reichspatent (German National Patent) No. 747073. This single drum replaced the multiple drums, typically around 10 or so, of contemporary calculators, and it enabled not only addition, but subtraction through nines complement math, essentially subtracting by adding. The nines’ complement math breakthrough eliminated the significant mechanical complexity created when “borrowing” during subtraction. This drum would prove to be the key to the small, hand-held mechanical calculator the Curta would become.”

Curta Mechanical Calculator

I’ve been hunting around for one of these for years, and I’m happy to say I finally acquired a Type 1 a week or two ago. This one is serial number 20120, manufactured in November, 1952 in Lichtenstein, where all Curtas were manufactured.

My unit functions perfectly, and I’m happily going through tutorials learning not only how to do basic math, but also more complex operations like roots and long division.

Yeah, technically it’s not following my rules for the vintage handheld collection, in that it’s not programmable in the way most folks consider, but in many ways it is a programmable handheld computer, with registers, a clock, and a limited ALU.

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Five Rules of Science

I was excited to hear that Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos has been renewed and will be airing new episodes next year. When I was in high school, I was absolutely transformed by Carl Sagan’s original series. I cannot understate the impact it had on my worldview and personal development as a critical thinker and supporter of science.

At the end of season two of Dr. Tyson’s series, he closed with, well, okay a slightly preachy, but still impactful commentary that included Dr. Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” quote. This was given during a lecture in Cornell in 1994. As Voyager 1 completed it’s mission and was getting ready to leave the solar system forever, Dr Sagan convinced the JPL to turn the Voyager camera around and take one last picture of earth from a distance of 3.7 billion miles.

I hadn’t heard the entire piece in quite some time, and it still brought me to tears.

That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

This, by itself, would have been a wonderful end to the series. But Dr. Tyson continued and presented his Five Rules of Science. In so many ways, these points build on Dr Sagan’s deep philosophical thoughts, and add concrete rules and guidelines. These are the foundations we should build our debates, our discussions, our ideas on….

Only a few centuries ago, a mere second in cosmic time, we knew nothing of where or when we were. Oblivious to the rest of the cosmos, we inhabited a kind of prison, a tiny universe bounded by a nutshell.

How did we escape from the prison? It was the work of generations of searchers who took five simple rules to heart.

  • Question authority. No idea is true just because someone says so, including me.
  • Think for yourself. Question yourself. Don’t believe anything just because you want to. Believing something doesn’t make it so.
  • Test ideas by the evidence gained from observation and experiment. If a favorite idea fails a well-designed test, it’s wrong. Get over it.
  • Follow the evidence wherever it leads. If you have no evidence, reserve judgment.

And perhaps the most important rule of all…

  • Remember: you could be wrong. Even the best scientists have been wrong about some things. Newton, Einstein, and every other great scientist in history — they all made mistakes. Of course they did. They were human.
  • Science is a way to keep from fooling ourselves, and each other.

There will, naturally, people who pick and choose from this list to simply further their personal agenda. These things cannot be taken in isolation. Either you accept, embrace, and follow them all, or you’re doing it wrong. Humility must go hand in hand with discovery. No one has all the answers. Be a searcher. Learn, grow, and explore.

Doing finish work on a windowsill.

I don’t do much home finishing work, but I’m sort of proud that I got this thing done myself.

After finishing the attic, the windowsill on the one window was unfinished. I decided to do the work myself. It was an ugly and glaring flaw in the otherwise well finished space, it was time to fix it.
The first step was picking up some wood of the appropriate thickness from Lowes, and cutting it to shape in the sill.

I wanted a bit of a lip over the front of it, so I ‘notched’ the side of the front board (it required two pieces because of the depth of the sill) and fit it into place. I was working with relatively rudimentary woodcutting tools (skilsaw and jigsaw), so the fit wasn’t perfect. If I had a chopsaw and/or a scrollsaw, this would be much easier, but there’s only so many tools I can fit in my house. I used my belt sander to smooth / round off the edges of the lip and the nailed the pieces in place with finishing nails, using a small punch to countersink the nails so they wouldn’t stick up.

Because the fit wasn’t perfect, and I hadn’t cut into the drywall to fit the pieces in snugly, I used some silicone to fill in the gaps and seal the wood against the wall. After that, it was just a matter of using some leftover paint I had from when the room was painted, and voila! I had a lovely new windowsill.

Is it perfect? Not even remotely, but it’s a damned sight better than the raw unfinished sill. Onward!

Installing the Back Seat on my 2000 Jeep Wrangler TJ

Winter means getting back into working on the Jeep (wait, does it? Oh heck, dunno. Vacation is a good time to do stuff). When I bought my Jeep TJ last year, it came with a rear seat, but the brackets needed to use the seat had been removed, so it’s just sat in the garage. A lot of Jeep purists remove it because it’s just extraneous, and takes up valuable storage space, but I’ve missed being able to take more than one passenger out for rides (either around town or on the trail), so I finally got around to getting this task done.

I bought new brackets and screws a few months ago, so I should have all the things neeed. What had been holding me up was the previous owner had painted the ‘tub’ of the jeep with Monstaliner, a very thick protective paint that protects the body of the jeep from rust. This paint was over everything, including the screws and bolt holes where I needed to mount the brackets. That paint would have to be scraped away before I could install anything.

I had help from a friend with some extra tools, and we were able to use a blow torch to heat up the monstaliner that was covering the side bracket screws, and, using a small pick, get the material out of the torx (torque?) heads enough to get a good solid mating of the socket. Those screws came out fine, but there was also material in the holes in the floor of the tub where the paint had dripped in.

We tried using the torch and screws on the floor holes to see if we could get the material out of the way, but it didn’t work (the screws would just jam up). In the end we used a tapping set to re-groove the holes and we were able to seat the screws into the floor of the tub

After that it was just a matter of putting the brackets in and dropping the seat in place. It fit like it was supposed to, but I realized I was missing a part. There’s a C-clip or something similar that goes on the front bar that keeps the seat from sliding sideways when folded up. That clip was missing, so I’ll need to go find that before I can declare this useable.

The next step will be to get a seat belt set (hellooooo ebay) and install those. When that’s all done, I’ll finally be able to take the family out for drives and wheeling if they want to come along! It’ll be nice being more than a 2 seater.

I Made Electronic Clocks with my Son

It’s always a challenge to find things to do with a teenager just going through his first year at college. What could ye ole dad provide that more interesting than his new experiences with friends, classes and living away from home? So it was with some trepedation I reached out to Zach and asked if he’d be interested in taking a soldering class with me at MakeIt Labs, the makerspace I’ve been frequenting the last two years or so.

The class was presented as a 3 hour introduction to soldering techniques and best practices. The lab would provide all the tools needed (soldering iron, tools, solder, and other bits), as well as the parts to build a nice little LED clock. This isn’t a ‘here’s your parts, you figure it out’ event, it was a guided walkthrough of basic technique, pitfalls to watch out for, and detailed instructions on assembly. Sounded like a great way to learn how to solder, as well as something we could do together.

“Sure Dad, sounds great. Lets go!”

So I signed for the class, and on Saturday Zach and I headed up to the lab and settled in at our stations.

Each of us had our own kit, consisting of about 30 parts, a printed circuit board, red retro LED displays, and a powersupply. The workstations were well supplied with a very good soldering iron, solder, wire snips, flux, needlenose pliers, board holder, and other small tools. Zach and I, along with 6 or so other students, got started. I had some experience soldering, having done lots of drone builds that require a fair amount of soldering work, but nothing this detailed, and certainly not mounting components on a PCB. Zach had none at all.

Our instructor had prepared well, with a full presentation on what we were going to do, what tools we’d be working with, and basics of how to use the materials and follow the instructions. After a 15-20m introduction on the hazards we should be careful for (“Soldering irons are hot, mmkay? They make other things hot too. Be careful!”) we got started. The first couple components were dirt simple. Just jumper wires across the board. After that we moved on to more and more detailed things, culminating in mounting the socket for the CPU and installing the chip. Through it all, Bill, our instructor, was patient, detailed, and obviously an expert on the subject. He answered all questions professionally and patiently, and, along with lab assistant John, helped the students when problems came up, or simple inspected work to make sure it was going okay.

Finally, after 2 hours of assembly, we were ready to test the boards out. Bill used one of the lab bench power supplies, and one by one, each student brought their board up, and it got powered up. Zach’s worked on the first try, showing bright glowing red LED digits ticking away time perfectly. Mine, of course, didn’t, and we quickly discovered 3-4 bad solder points. I went back to my bench and fixed these, and my clock came to life as well.

The kits were from a standard hobbyist supplier, and were meant for student workshops like this. they didn’t come with mounting hardware, so before the class started, Bill and John thoughtfully used the labs laser cutter to make some acrylic display mounts. A couple screws, standoff posts, and acrylic plates later, and lo, we had a lovely, hand built, LED clock!

The class was a great experience for both Zach and I, and we both had something useful we took away together. Each of us has an identical clock that we made at the same time, together, on a cold day in December.

Thanks MakeIt for providing a great learning environment, thanks Bill for putting together a great class, and thanks Zach for spending a cool day geeking out with his old man.

Atari Portfolio

This one has been on my bucket list from the beginning, and I’m happy to say, I was able to make my way through an eBay auction and pick up a mint condition unit that looks great and works even better.

In 1989, DIP Research in Surrey England developed the DIP Pocket PC. They licensed it to Atari in the US and UK, and Atari rebranded it as the Portfolio.

The Portfolio is widely recognized as the first MS-DOS Compatible palmtop computer. It runs a slightly modified version of MS-DOS 2.11.

This unit is in pristine condition, complete with expansion cards with several applications, we well as a card reader that can be plugged into a desktop PC for transferring files.

Specifications:

  • Manufactured: June 1989
  • Operating system: DIP DOS 2.11
  • CPU: 80C88 @ 4.9152 MHz
  • Memory: 128 KB of RAM and 256 KB of ROM
  • Display: monochrome LCD (no backlight) 40 characters × 8 lines
  • Graphics: 240 × 64
  • Power: 3× AA size removable alkaline batteries (Optional AC adapter)

TI-74 Basicalc

I had never heard of these machines until one came up on /r/retrobattlestations and I just had to have it.

The Basicalc is one of the early programmable calculators that was starting the trend in handheld computing from ‘calculator’ to ‘computer’. The TRS-80 PC-1 is another great example.

The TI-74 has a working BASIC interpreter, as well as the standard calculator functions. It also includes a ROM Module slot that allows for plugin expansion of pre-packaged applications.

Specifications:

  • TMS70C46 CPU
  • 31 5×7 character LCD
  • 32+4 KB ROM
  • 8 KB RAM
  • RAM/ROM memory expansion port
  • Hexbus port
  • 80 characters per line (31 visible)
  • powered by 4 AAA-size batteries

Happy to have this in the collection!

5 Mobile Titles Poised To Define AR Gaming

AR gaming is no longer just a concept. Thanks to Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore – development platforms allowing mobile developers to create AR games with relative ease – this form of gaming is now available on some of the most popular smartphones on the market. Particularly where Apple is concerned, we’ve already seen a lot of interesting games released, and there are surely many more to come.

The most interesting category that hasn’t quite exploded just yet, however, is that of mobile games being adapted to the AR format. These games have the advantage of familiarity and foundations of success, and could be some of the first major hits in augmented reality if and when they’re adapted. It’s a precedent that’s already been set by games like Stack AR and a few others, which are building on previous mobile titles. But if we were to bet on the kinds of AR titles people will be buzzing about in another six months or a year, these are some of the games we’d be keeping an eye on.

Angry Birds

It should just about go without saying that Angry Birds will always be at the forefront of mobile gaming. Through numerous versions, it has always been among the most popular titles in the app stores. What you may not know is that an Iranian company produced an AR version of Angry Birds back in 2012! It was said to make it appear as if the game were happening in 3D right in the room you’re standing in, which pretty much describes the point of AR as we now know it. We’re not suggesting this particular game will now make it big, but the fact that an AR Angry Birds has basically already been demo’d makes an ARKit or ARCore adaptation seem that much more likely. It’s a matter of time before this franchise moves into the new medium (and probably becomes the most popular AR game out there).

Monument Valley

AR is largely about visual intrigue, and in that regard no mobile game has ever stood above Monument Valley. Known for mesmerizing beauty, the game also happens to match the basic format and playing style of some of the early successes in augmented reality. That is to say, it’s effectively a puzzle game with a heavy emphasis on geometry and different angles and perspectives. You need only take a glance at some of the lists of the best early AR games to see that there are already a few titles imitating this style of gaming, and doing well with it. A Monument Valley adaptation could be the best of them all, and will probably emerge at some point.

Gonzo’s Quest

This could be a particularly interesting game because it’s already something of an innovator. Known as one of the best video slots available to online and mobile players, Gonzo’s Quest has been praised for its underlying story and video content (which take the game well beyond the slot reel). As one writer put it, the game creates a better sense of engagement by giving you something to focus on. We already know that a VR version of Gonzo’s Quest is being developed, and it could make the leap to AR as well – potentially establishing a new standard for casino arcade games in the process.

High Noon

High Noon is the least likely game on this list to see a direct adaptation, but the concept of this game still seems worthy of recognition in this discussion. This was a one-on-one duel shooter that made use of a sort of form of AR. Your job was to pull your phone from a “holster” position and use your screen to locate your enemy, tapping to fire. Duels were held in real-time, but players were represented by animated characters in a cartoonish old West. It’s fairly easy to imagine a newer version of a similar game in which players are represented by their own avatars, and opponents appear as if they’re in real physical space. Such a game probably won’t be attached to High Noon, but even under a different name it would redefine AR shooters.

The Room

The Room seems poised for success for the same reasons that Monument Valley is: it’s a beautiful puzzle game with a heavy focus on angles, which pretty much suits an early formula being developed for engaging AR games. We’re singling out The Room in particular though because its developer, Fireproof Games, has actually already produced mixed reality content. The company produced Omega Agent for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Samsung Gear VR, stating that it wanted to stay true to the spellbinding nature of virtual reality in designing the experience. This doesn’t guarantee that The Room will get an adaptation, but it would seem to make it more likely.

Editors note: This article was a guest contribution.

Sharp Zaurus SL-5500 Linux PDA

In 2003, Sharp started making a series of PDAs under the ‘Zaurus’ name. The designs ranged from a small clamshell to a mini-tablet form factor. The SL-5000 was a development version, with the 5500 being the full release.

These units got very popular in the Linux community, because they ran a full on Linux distribution, and were easily modified. The original firmware (referred to as SharpROM) while functional, had some limitations. A new project, called OpenZaurus, was born that built a new Linux distribution specifically for these devices, coupled with an opensource graphical environment called OPIE. Later, this work was rolled into OpenEmbedded.

The SL-5500 is a full on Linux device, with enough hardware and expandability to make them really interesting to use. A built in mechanical keyboard behind a sliding cover, a good screen, CF slot for external cards, and SD card slot for storage made it a great mobile device.

Specs:

  • Running Openzaurus (linux distro) and Opie (desktop environment)
  • Screen resolution of 240×320 TFT Active Matrix display
  • 206 MHz SA-1110 StrongArm processor
  • 64meg RAM
  • Approximately 10 hour battery life

Quiet Sunday Morning at Home

There’s something pleasant about a quiet morning like this.

It’s Sunday morning. It’s rainy and cold outside, but nice and cozy inside. I can hear the water dripping on the porch and the windows… it’s soothing and relaxing. Some quiet jazz is playing on the Echo in the living room while I’m parked on the couch doing geeky things on the laptop. A nice cup of coffee sits at hand…

Nessie relaxing
We’re dogsitting this weekend, which has been going just fine. Her name is Nessie, and she’s super-low key and enjoying hanging out with us.

These times are super-special to me, and the last few weeks haven’t allowed many of them. I’m grateful I have a peaceful, safe, comfortable place I can relax and recharge.

Apple eMate 300

Back in 1997, Apple realized there was a market for computers designed specifically for classroom use. They had built much of their success on Apple II+ and IIe computers liberally distributed through schools, and, facing pressure from IBM and the ‘clone’ world, decided to leverage their moderate success with the Newton line of PDA’s.

Thus, the Apple eMate 300 was born. Building on the Newton platform, Apple took the top end configurations of the Newton Messagepad 2000 and 2100, and built a small, laptop-like device. The touchscreen remained, with the stylus, backlighting, and much of the NewtonOS, but Apple added a keyboard, rechargeable internal battery, a durable case, mounting hardware for securing the devices to desks, and some additional management tools for teachers to be able to work with roomfuls of eMates. Other changes were the addition of an internal memory expansion slot that allowed the units to be upgraded with additional RAM or customized ROM cards.

The device is quite attractive and easy to work with, light and easy to carry, and the 85% sized full stroke keyboard is comfortable to type on. As with all Newtons, it has no inherent networking support (short of Localtalk, a serial protocol used to communicate with printers and other similar devices), but does a PCMCIA socket that allows for network cards.

Specifications:

  • Screen: 480×320, 6.8″
  • Battery life: 28 hours
  • Processor: 25 MHz ARM 710a RISC processor
  • Initial cost: $799 ($1150 in modern value)
  • RAM: 1mb
  • ROM: 8mb
  • Storage: 2mb Flash

In many ways, the eMate laid the groundwork for the OLPC XO-1 computer which came out 9 years later.

Unfortunately, the eMates only lasted less than a year, when Steve Jobs cancelled the entire Newton project after Gil Amelio was fired as the CEO of Apple.

Best Amazon Echo Dot Wall Mount Ever

I have 4 Echo Dots, plus a full size Echo in the living room. Love the durned little buggers, and calling out ‘alexa!’ has become a normal part of every day life. I use it for music, news, shopping lists, and home control of lights and dimmers. I can see the days of carrying on conversations with your house getting closer and closer.

The Dots are cute, but they need to sit on a surface somewhere. That takes up space and clutter. I’d been digging around to try and find a 3d printed mount or something similar so I could mount the Dots on the wall.

This morning while cleaning up my workbench, I realized there was a very simple way of hanging the dot on the wall. A pair of 3″ framing nails later, and voila. The dot is up and off my workbench, it’s stable, the speaker is cleared enough to be heard and sounds fine, victory.

I know many people dont’ have 2×6 studs exposed everywhere, but goshdarnit, this was a quicky fix that works great.

Apple Newton Messagepad 130

The Newton was Apple’s first handheld ‘tablet’ computer. The first generation of these were the 110, 120, and 130. They were pioneers in the handheld computing realm, bringing unseen features such as full handwriting recognition and high resolution (for the time) touchscreens , with an intuitive and easy to understand interface.

The Messagepad 130 is interesting because it’s the first in the line to not only come with the vastly improved NewtonOS 2.0, but it included a backlight. The monochrome screens in all the Newtons is tricky to use in less than direct light, so this feature was a welcome addition.

Specifications:

  • Model: H0208
  • Memory: 2.5 MB
  • Storage: 8 MB ROM, 2 MB Flash (Expandable)
  • Screen: 320 × 240 monochrome , backlit
  • Introduced: March 1996

Psion Organizer II LZ

Manufactured in 1986, the Organiser II was really the first successful PDA. Psion started with the Organiser in 1984, billed as the ‘First Practical Pocket Computer’. This unit came out 2 years later and had a larger display, more RAM and a faster CPU.

One of the big innovations were ‘Datapaks’ – modules that could be plugged into the unit with either pre-loaded software or additional storage.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 5.6″ x 3.0″ x 1.1″
  • Weight: 8.8 oz. (without battery)
  • Display: 4 lines x 16 characters, Dot matrix LCD.
  • Keyboard: 36 keys, audible click, auto-repeat.
  • Memory: (CM) 32k ROM, 8k RAM. (XP) 32k ROM, 32k RAM.
  • Moss Storage: 2 slots for program & Datapaks.
  • Interfacing: 16-pin slot for optional peripherals.
  • Power: Standard 9 volt lang-life alkaline battery

For more information, check out oldcomputers.net page on the Psion Organiser.