Personal Notes

This is "the kitchen sink" — a blog for all the other things I'm interested in that don't relate to national policy issues, security concerns, etc. And all of this is just as much a part of me as those more serious pages. Here you'll find notes, reactions, random comments, favorite recipes, and more. It's personal and it's just for fun.

Yet Another Leica Review

On a business trip to Europe last month, I had some extra time and went to Bordeaux to check out some great wines. On my last day, in a very small camera store right next to my hotel, I glanced a silver Leica M (Type 240). From a distance, I thought it was a mirage, or at best, a mockup/demo. (Understand, I placed an order for the M the day it was announced in September 19th of LAST year and still don’t have an ETA as of mid-June.) Even though I was late for the airport, I decided to at least check out the camera. Sure enough, it was a working model and I wanted to purchase it – just not the silver one. Assuming failure, I still asked the store clerk (in very bad French) if they had a black version. After much discussion amongst themselves and several minutes later, they brought out a brand new black one!

I immediately purchased it, processed the duty free form and headed to the airport. Anyway, here is my initial review of the new M camera. This is coming from an amateur novice photographer who came from a Nikon background and still owns (and uses from time-to-time) a D700 and D4 that is just a gadget geek and also own the M8, M8.2 and M9. Even though my background is scientific, this is not a scientific review, but more a “software” (since I ran a software company in a prior life) and general usability review since that is what you really want to do with a camera – use it and take great pictures.

First of all, I really love this camera. I really liked using the M9 and with my 3rd Range Finder (RF) camera, I felt I was getting the hang of taking pretty good pictures with it. Unfortunately, the M9 was still frustrating in low light conditions and focusing. In regards to focusing, without getting into the details of RF cameras, if the lens and body aren’t perfectly calibrated, when focusing a high performance (i.e., 50mm f/0.95) Leica lens (which is why you use Leica), the image will come out blurry and unfocused. This has happened to me several times even though I swore I took the time to meticulously focus.

With Leica switching imaging sensors from an 18MP CCD based Kodak sensor to a custom 24MP CMOS based CMOSIS sensor, it gave the two big features (again, not going to debate CCD vs CMOS because the M looks great). The first is “Live View” where you can focus using the 3” 920K pixel LCD display on the back of the camera. This addresses the calibration issue above by letting you do a sanity check of your focus just in case the alignment is off. The second feature CMOS allows is the recording of video (up to 25fps @ 1080p). Some other benefits, I believe that this camera derives from using a CMOS sensor includes greater dynamic range (important – later), higher ISO support (to address low light issues) and multi-field metering (whereas, the old Leica only had center-weighted metering).

Multi-field metering, is actually quite helpful as older Leica’s had to manually meter with a mushy half press of the shutter, hold (again, on a mushy trigger), recompose and finish the press to shoot. While the multi-field/matrix measuring sometimes doesn’t work correctly and is slightly slower than the other options, it does a hell of a lot better than me. With the current firmware (1.1.0.2), it seems like the multi-field calculations are very sensitive and will tend to miscalculate with even a small lighting change in the background. A good way to test this is to take several photos in sequence using continuous burst mode (3 fps of up to 8 pictures). You will notice that each picture will be shot at a slightly (or quite a lot) different exposure. However, due to the higher dynamic range of the sensor, when you under or over expose, there is a lot a latitude available for correction in apps like Photoshop.

One other benefit of “Live View” is the better support for the full lineup of M lenses. Up until the M9, the RF system used frame lines in the viewer to show you area of coverage. This explanation gets complicated without explaining the RF system in detail. Nevertheless, the M9 frame lines only “natively” supported 24mm – 135mm (though 135mm was pretty useless since it’s almost impossible to focus on an RF system).

I am also using the Electronic View Finder (EVF) option on my Leica M. It attaches to the hot shoe of where the flash usually goes. This is basically a small display that shows everything the Live View display. It is a lower contrast, lower refresh rate and lower resolution display so it doesn’t accurately reproduce colors like the Live View window does. However, it gets the job done. The only thing I would fix on this is the “power” button requirement to switch between Live View and the EVF. Finally, the swivel on the EVF should have a little more resistance. When you put your eye to it, you tend to push it upwards into an awkward position.

With Live View/EVF, you have also the option of Focus Peaking. This feature will let you know (through a red dotted line around the subject) what area the lens is currently focused on. This is very useful when it’s difficult to find the exact plane you have focus on. However, what is ironic about this is that when shooting at a faster aperture (especially f/1.4, f/0.95), the depth-of-field and focus area (obviously) is much shallower and thus, the red “outline” is perhaps only one pixel wide (e.g., very hard to see). While I understand the logic and you tend to see a much broader red “brush strokes” outlining the depth-of-field on a slower aperture, you tend to know the focus area already. Therefore, I hope that in the next firmware, there is a minimum pixel width or flashing or movement or another color sandwiching the actual depth-of-field line. Also, to help with the focusing, there is a badly documented feature called the “Focus Assist” button (in the front of the camera above the lens release button) which, if pressed, will let you zoom into the picture (center only) at either 5x or 10x magnification. It takes getting used to, but once you get used to it, it is that much more helpful in getting that perfect focus. The only problem is, since it can only zoom on the center, you may have to “find” the focus area (especially at 10x), recompose and shoot – all while going back-and-forth between normal view and 10x magnified.

I am not going to cover video here because I have not tried to play with it as much. With the little playing I did do, I realize that shooting a movie takes completely different skills to even make watchable. Other than that, some other comments:

1) While the M (240) is much quieter than the M9 (which was already quiet), there are a lot of clicking shutter noises that tend to confuse you when are in a rush to take a picture immediately after power on. This probably has to do with using the multi-field option where the camera calculates exposure from the sensor and thus, the shutter has to be open. So: power on, brief pause, shutter opens (‘did I accidentally take a shot?’), metering starts, shutter closes to end metering – which, by the way, sounds just like when you take a photo.

2) Startup time takes a little longer – ~2 seconds.

3) When quickly scrolling through letters (when setting the copyright notice) the camera will lock up.

4) GPS is unfortunately a bulky add-on (which isn’t available until later in the summer). It’s unfortunate they couldn’t include that in the camera – especially when the menu keeps taunting you about the features settings.

5) There is now a horizon level display. It is probably only useful when setting up a tripod. Unfortunately, when taking a picture, there is no way (yet) to bring up the horizon level within Live View or the EVF.

6) Taking video is a great option that I’ll talk about in the future. The only immediate issue is the location of the button being too close to the shutter as I have taken several movies by accident. Finally, when taking a movie, it is not obvious in any of the display that you are doing so.

7) The menu is tremendously improved but is somewhat complicated by both the Setting Dial and the Direction Pad doing the same thing (scrolling) and/or the Set button being duplicated by the Info button on the Direction Pad (but not always consistently).

[For pictures samples, visit my FaceBook page here.]

June 18th, 2013 09:59 PM
Author whsaito
Category Random
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How not to do a software launch or DRM implementation

So a rare “not so busy weekend” (okay, I’m procrastinating) I decided to use the computer for entertainment and bought/downloaded SimCity. This game is an old favorite of mine starting with the original version from 1989 (wow… 24 years ago!) and 1st major upgrade of the franchise in 10 years (last one was SimCity4 from 2003).

Anyway, I was honestly looking forward to it and purchased/downloaded the stub/installer earlier in the week on Amazon.com. Come Thursday, I was able to download the full version on Thursday and activate it. I read some excellent reviews about the beta version of the product and was excited to test how the various algorithms have both evolved and become more granular. I also learned that EA (the publisher) uses a new form of DRM (Digital Rights Management) where the software has to “always” be connected to the internet (and their servers) to run.

I also heard rumors that EA offloads a lot of the complex calculations on their servers to allow for the game to not be performance limited based on the PC the customer is using. I realized that all the “save games” were being stored on EA’s server so that you don’t need to worry about local files (or they have to worry about local files being modified – i.e., adding more money to your cities coffers). Anyway, these all seemed legitimate, I respect copyright and the problem with piracy and so I did not give this much thought initially.

So the 1st time you start the game (which was on the 1st evening for me), it gives you a very long and thorough tutorial. And frankly, things look very promising. Of course, when I finished the tutorial, it was already a long night and I quite the game. When I did, I noticed a quick message that there were server connection problems. At the time, not much of a concern since I was closing the game. The following evening, I started the game again. However, SimCity wanted to give me the tutorial all over again. Apparently, by not connecting to the server, it could not update my status that I finished the tutorial. Again, no big deal I thought since it just means skipping the tutorial (which actually is not so obvious).

So after starting my 1st game, I was able to select an area, type of city, name, etc. This went relatively smoothly even though there were sporadic pop-up messages telling me that the server connections were unavailable (or some equivalent). This session came and went, and I quit SimCity – again, the system told me that it could not save the latest session (no big deal I thought because the last few steps I can always recreate. The following session, I started SimCity and it did indeed found the last saved file. Unfortunately, and I realize now, the server connections have gotten steadily worse (contrary to EA’s announcements about adding additional servers) and, while I see my saved game, I am unable to open it. Worse, since server connections to all servers do not work (even though they say they are available), I can neither select the last game and/or even start a new game.

Anyway, I am writing this as an expert in IT security and feel very bad at the state of EA’s product several days after release. It is the 1st product in recent memory which actually is unusable. Not that it has a lot of bugs (I didn’t notice any when it did run – but honestly did not use it for that long), but that it can’t even start! Like all things (ie., the 787), with time, it will clear things up. However, it is very unfortunate that given all the positive pre-launch reviews, that EA had to choose this controversial path and effectively release an unusable product. To not have a fallback, backup plan or temporary triage is inexcusable for a company the size of EA. Thus, for the moment, I would recommend people to wait on purchasing SimCity – at least until I can get back on the server. <g>

March 9th, 2013 07:17 PM
Author whsaito
Category Random
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Various flour based recipes

Here are some recipes of items I cook in preparation for a bigger dish.

Pizza Dough

3.5 cup flour
1.5 cup warm water
1 packet yeast
Pinch sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon sea salt

White Bread

1 cup water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups bread flour
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast

French Baguettes

1 cup water
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons bread machine yeast
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water

Directions

  1. Place 1 cup water, bread flour, sugar, salt and yeast into bread machine pan in the order recommended by manufacturer. Select Dough cycle, and press Start.
  2. When the cycle has completed, place dough in a greased bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover, and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes, or until doubled in bulk. Dough is ready if indentation remains when touched.
  3. Punch down dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a 16×12 inch rectangle. Cut dough in half, creating two 8×12 inch rectangles. Roll up each half of dough tightly, beginning at 12 inch side, pounding out any air bubbles as you go. Roll gently back and forth to taper end. Place 3 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Make deep diagonal slashes across loaves every 2 inches, or make one lengthwise slash on each loaf. Cover, and let rise in a warm place for 30 to 40 minutes, or until doubled in bulk.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Mix egg yolk with 1 tablespoon water; brush over tops of loaves.
  5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown.

Blini

225g buckwheat/wholewheat flour
225g plain flour
pinch salt
2 eggs, plus 2 egg whites
45g fresh yeast
2 tsp caster sugar
700ml warm milk
1 tbsp melted butter
vegetable oil

Directions

  1. For the blinis, sift the buckwheat (or wholewheat) flour and plain flour into a bowl and mix with a pinch of salt.
  2. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and add the two whole eggs and one of the egg whites. Whisk from the centre outwards to create a thick paste.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the yeast, sugar and milk and leave to stand for a couple of minutes.
  4. Gradually pour the yeast mixture into the flour and egg mixture, whisking constantly, to make a smooth batter.
  5. Add the melted butter and stir well.
  6. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for one hour.
  7. Just before cooking the blinis, whisk the remaining egg white in a clean bowl until light, then fold into the batter.
  8. Heat a little oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Pour enough batter into the pan to make a 10cm/4in diameter blini.
  9. When bubbles start to appear on the surface of the batter, turn the blini over and cook the other side.
  10. Remove the blini from the pan and keep warm while you make the rest of the blinis in the same way.
March 7th, 2013 08:07 AM
Author whsaito
Category cooking, Random, recipe
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Macadamia Nut Crusted Chilean Sea Bass

I once had Chilean sea bass at an upscale restaurant in New York city and thought I’d try to recreate that recipe when I went to the supermarket and saw some real Chilean sea bass for sale.  Anyway, to recreate what I had, I used the following ingredients:

1 pound fresh sea bass
salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts
1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

  1. COMBINE oil, ginger, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Mix well. Place the fish fillets in a shallow dish. Pour oil mixture evenly over top. Let stand 30 to 60 minutes.
  2. COMBINE, combine macadamia nuts, bread crumbs, butter, black pepper, and basil. Blend well with a fork.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  4. In a large skillet over medium heat. Sear the sea bass on both sides, and remove from heat.
  5. Place the fish fillets in prepared pan. Top each fillet with an even layer of bread crumb mixture.
  6. BAKE 10 to 15 minutes until done.

The fish turned out really well and its important to leave the macadamia nuts at a certain size (not less than 3 m) so that the fish will have good texture.  Next time, I’ll take a picture.

June 14th, 2010 09:08 PM
Author whsaito
Category Random, recipe
Comments 1 Comment

Future Questions

In the spirit of why I started keeping a blog, I thought I’d write down a list of questions that I’m guessing what my grand kids will be asking 50 years from now.  Only then will I know how my predictive abilities are.  Some are actually wishes of mine, but if I believe in them strongly enough, I’m sure someone (perhaps me) will invent something to address them.

  • What is a battery?
  • You had to actually recharge the battery all the time? 
  • Why did you have to type things in?  Wasn’t using keyboard slow and inefficient?
  • Why were images only in 2D on a physical surface?  Wasn’t it hard to carry around?
  • Why do old pictures show all kinds of cables on the desk?  What did they do?
  • Why was storage and speed always defined?  Did you actually run out of space?
  • What is a personal computer?
  • Why did you call it a “smart” phone?
  • Why did you use paper?
  • What are magazines and newspapers?
  • What is a password? How did you remember all of them? why did you need them?
  • Why did things all look the same? Why didn’t everyone personalize their things?
  • What do you mean you had to “search” for things?
  • You got to drive the car?
June 9th, 2010 02:54 AM
Author whsaito
Comments 1 Comment

Bread recipe

Here is a bread recipe I made today that is good enough to publish on my blog.  I found a Four-Grain bread recipe and modified it (in red) accordingly for a small Japanese breadmaker and because I didn’t have some of the ingredients.

3/4 cup water (70 to 80 degrees F)
1/4 cup honey
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup bread flour
1/2 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons rye flour
1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons cornmeal
1/4 cup steel cut oatmeal
1 2.5 teaspoon active dry yeast

Very nutty, sweet flavored bread…..

March 22nd, 2010 11:25 AM
Author whsaito
Category Bread, cooking, Random, recipe
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