September 29, 2006

Tears of... something.

I do not cry often. There are only two times in the last decade I can think of: When my brother kicked me in the scrotum, and after I walked out into my dad's truck being emptied of everyone's suitcases.

I cried yesterday.

I'm currently in Kentucky, just outside Fort Knox, to attend my brother's graduation from Army Basic Combat Training. Yesterday was the first time I've seen him since July. As soon as I saw him walk run in formation into the gym, that was it for me. I cried a little bit before forcing myself not to break down entirely. If I started, I knew my mom would completely lose it. And, as I found out, my brother was operating on the same principle while standing up there.

Today he actually graduates. Today I will most likely cry again, because I can feel it coming and going again simply typing up this entry.

Tears of sadness? Tears of joy? Sure. I'm proud of him; what he's gone through in the past months has been a trial and he came through it stronger. He's decided to serve his country, to serve others. But at the same time, the Army took my damn brother. This is a kid who's slowly become my best friend over the years. And now he's three thousand miles away and inaccessible until the start of next year, when he's finally done with the entirety of his training.

Posted by Colin at 3:24 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 25, 2006

Fat Camp

Well, the Adobe Lightroom beta has finally gone and done it: It's moved from svelte and sexy to requiring nearly as much go juice as Apple's Aperture.

This is both amusing and depressing at once, as Lightroom's initial redeeming quality—and the one everyone was trumpeting—was that it would run fairly well on older Macs and Macs with less RAM, where Aperture wouldn't work at all. Well, friends, Beta 4 has left those halcyon days behind. The minimum spec is now 768MB of RAM, and Beta 4 is the slowest version yet on my trusty 800MHz Power Mac G4. As in unusable.

Posted by Colin at 8:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 23, 2006

HP: We can do photos too!

So HP has gotten serious about the photographic printing market, and has thrown their hat into the ring (for real this time) with the HP PhotoSmart Pro B9180. I ordered print samples as soon as they became available. They arrived today. And, despite the number of people with pre-release B9180s claiming their Epsons are now collecting dust, I'll be buying an Epson over an HP based on the samples. In my opinion, Epson's 4-year-old original UltraChrome ink technology surpasses HP's brand new ink technology. Why? Here we go. **Image 1: Mother and child. Black-and-white. Matte canvas.** HP undeniably has nailed subtlety and transitions in black-and-white printing. It's an area that's long been a shortcoming with inkjet photographic prints, and they're bringing it. That said, their black has issues. It's not very permanent; it rubs off fairly easily (it is, after all, a heavily carbon pigment), smudging into areas around it. This is not a problem with the colored inks, such as the magenta and blue HP uses for the ad copy. And in the blackest of the blacks on this sample, the image takes on a ever-so-slightly different sheen that may catch some people's attention. The canvas' coating also has the delectable aroma of latex paint, which may affect some people's desire to use it. **Image 2: Phone booth along forest road. Color. Glossy.** Pretty typical for a glossy inkjet print. Exhibits gloss differentialthat is, a rather obvious difference in "dimension" between inked and white or light areas. Bronzing, on the other hand, seems to be dealt with well (there is none that I can see). HP's glossy paper is also probably the single most fragile glossy paper I've ever seen. Handled very carefully, it has probably a dozen creases in it now (and it was pristine when I pulled it from the packaging). **Image 3: Pagoda. Color. Aquarelle (Watercolor).** The black comes back for a second bad showing here. Remember how I said there was something just barely off on the black-and-white? It's back with a vengeance when you dare to combine colors and anything approaching black in one image. Black areas recede into the paper; the colors they are interlaced and intermingled with leap forward off the page. The blacks in this matte print as much flatter than everything else, which results in a weird disconnect between the shadows and everything else. And again, as with the other matte paper (canvas), the blacks readily transfer to other portions of the image while the colors stay put on the paper. I have not had identical problems with black smudging on prints from an Epson Stylus Photo 2200. (In fact, I just sat here with two prints and tried to reproduce it.) On the other side of things, the 2200 can't produce black-and-whites of the quality the B9180 can out of the box (the newer R2400, on the other hand...). None of this is to say that the B9180 isn't an improvement. Over past HP printers, it is. I have print samples from the last generation of HP's professional photo printers, and they were miserable. But all the hullaballoo that Epson suddenly has two serious competitors in Canon and HP is a little generous at this point. Beyond that, Epson is still the de facto standard at this point and all your third-party papers and inks are designed or profiled for Epson printers. You can't, for example, go buy a roll of Moab paper for your HPboth because HP decided nobody wanted roll paper support in a $700 printer and because all of Moab's current ICC profiles are for the Epson printers everybody uses today.
Posted by Colin at 12:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 17, 2006

On the other hand...

Maintaining accounts at two banks is good for a lot of things.

You'd think one of them would be increasing the likelihood of having access to your bank when you're traveling, like I will be for a couple days next month.

Apparently, in the case of Wells Fargo, Washington Mutual, and Kentucky, you'd be wrong.

There are no Wells Fargo branches or ATMs in Kentucky; there are, however, an astounding two Wells Fargo ATMs and one branch 100 miles away in Indiana. (Whereas here in Phoenix, Wells Fargo has the apparent desire to have a branch at most every two miles.)

WaMu's locator can't find me anything even in the vague area of Kentucky.

Heck, there are only even two Co-op Network credit union ATMs in all of Kentucky.


I'm suddenly very glad I'm only going to be there long enough to see my brother at the Army base. I bet they serve sweet tea in all the restaurants, too. Blech!

Posted by Colin at 12:22 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 16, 2006

Wells Fargo, WaMu

A few interesting differences between Wells Fargo and Washington Mutual I've discovered in my first two weeks of now banking with both of them:

ATMs
Wells Fargo's are all outdoors. WaMu's are all inside the bank, require an ATM card to enter, and only let one cardholder in at a time. Wells Fargo has the technically better machines themselves, though, as WaMu's have the most annoying buttons ever. Wells Fargo's ATM deposit envelopes have a better texture on the tongue, while WaMu's taste better.

WaMu also just has to be that eccentric kid that makes you insert the ATM deposit envelopes upside down. Seam side down? You're weird, kid. (Or at least it's upside down from Wells Fargo. Maybe everyone else does it the WaMu way. Heck if I know.)

Up-to-Date Information
WaMu updates your account information basically instantly. They also display holds against your account, which Wells Fargoin my experiencedoesn't. For example, I know there's a $1 hold on my checking account right now. I've never seen a hold reflect in the Wells Fargo "available balance" figure. Which one's better is a matter of personal taste... the Wells Fargo way, you have access to all your money. The WaMu way, you can't overdraft if the hold gets converted.

Conveniences
Also in the ATM vestibule at WaMu banks are a courtesy phone to speak to their customer service line, and a night drop you can use if (a) you don't trust the ATM or (b) you need to pay off any debt to WaMu (credit card, mortgage, loan). If you make a payment by 8PM at the drop box, you're on time.

Wells Fargo ATMs being holes in a wall, they don't have courtesy phones. And the night depository is only for merchants dropping off bags full of money.

Account Benefits
Wells Fargo has a gold Visa debit card. According to Wells Fargo, the gold status carries basically none of the gold Visa benefits. But it's a debit card! And it's gold-colored!

Wells Fargo charges $35 for a box of their house-branded checks, and much more for designer checks.

WaMu has a gold MasterCard debit card. The WaMu card carries all of MasterCard's gold benefits, including price protection, warranty extensions, 90 day purchase replacement, and roadside assistance. Each purchase made using your debit card is applied to the WaMu Debit Rewards or the WaMoola for Schools programs. The former gives you $0.03 back for each of your debit card purchases yearly (up to $200 or so, which requires an astounding 6,666 debit card purchases), while the latter accumulates points which convert into a cash donation to a school of your choice.

WaMu provides you with checks, for free, for life. They offer a variety of designs for free, and also offer premium designs for a modest price.

Total Recall
WaMu provides access to your past 13 months of statements from their web site. Older statements can be requested for free, and will be available online within 24 hours.

Wells Fargo provides access to your past 3 months of statements from their web site. Older statements are available within a couple weeks, and you are charged a "research fee" for making Wells dredge them up from storage. There is no standardized fee; the amount varies depending on which of their many defunct or current account types you have.

Neither bank offers a way to review the complete terms of your account (for example, the Wells Fargo research fee) should you have a question about them.

Posted by Colin at 9:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 14, 2006

Epson Stylus Photo 2200

I printed some more with an Epson Stylus Photo 2200 today.

This time it was on Epson's Premium Luster paper.

Ho-ly cow.

Don't get me wrong, the prints on matter paper were beautiful as well. But when you add in that luster surface, the results are just that much more vibrant and gorgeous. Newer designs be damned; I'm finding myself an old unwanted 2200 and going to town with it.

Posted by Colin at 12:45 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 12, 2006

iTunes 7

Well, that was shocking.

The new iTunes 7, released today, is has the single ugliest Mac application icon I've ever seen. The application's hideous. The icon's hideous. The new look of the iTunes Store is similarly hideous.

Time to dig around for the previous version. I can definitely live without this fugly thing.

(Edited 9/13, because the application's not so bad after all. Some stupid decisions, but it's not on par with the icon and the redesigned "contrast and legibility is for wussies" iTunes Store.)

Posted by Colin at 8:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What the Hell

Sometimes, the simplest response is the most appropriate.

Such is the case with news out of Australia that a dozen stingrays have now been attacked and killed by humans following Steve Irwin's death.

My response: What the hell? Just what the hell?

Last I checked, we're not engaged in war with the ocean, and nor have rays declared a jihad against land dwellers. No number of slaughtered sea creatures is going to cause Irwin to sit bolt upright in his coffin and belt out "Crikey" one more time.

Posted by Colin at 7:29 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Affixed

Growing up, I never would have said I necessarily wanted to live in Arizona forever. My grandparents all lived in Illinois, and it was enjoyable if not humid. But we also visited San Diego every summer, and I was pretty much in love with it. To have the ocean right there? To have the cool weather and the beach vistas? Move me in, baby! Then Something Happened a couple years ago and I realized Arizona was the place for me. I may bitch about the weather a couple times in a summer, but _it's home_. I wouldn't trade those melt-your-skin-off days for all the beaches in California. (And hey, if I live long enough, California's bound to drop off into the ocean anyway!) Last year, a job opening popped up at a company I admired in Oregon. I was well-qualified for it, the company was great, and it was work I loved doing. Pay was good, too. But for all those benefits, the thought of leaving Arizona kept me from even applying. I can't imagine life without living in the valley, without earth-shaking monsoon storms, without the landscapes I grew up on. Where else in the nation can you find every kind of biome in one state? You can't. Other places are great to visit and can offer some awesome material for photographing, but at the end of the day I want to come home to cactus and monsoons and sweltering heat and snow an hour away. [Incidentally, I somehow made Arizona sound appealing to one of my distant friends with a phrase like that. He said not having to shovel snow or drive on it was well worth the hot summer. If you say so, Kev.] Arizona just seems to have that effect on people. My parents moved here because my dad fell in love with it when he came to check ASU out for his master's. Sure, the state government (not to mention federal) may do some stupid things here sometimes, but dammit, it's _our_ stupid government. Short of Palo Verde melting down tomorrow and sending us all fleeing from nuclear fallout—in which case yes, I would jump in my Jeep and go as fast as four all-terrains could take me—I'm a lifer. Although realistically, we'd all die anyway because nobody in Phoenix can drive and we'd be in bumper-to-bumper gridlock for no real reason as the radioactive cloud washed over and rendered us all sterile. I was driving to Phoenix last week and the 60 was backed up for two miles because someone had pulled off to the side of the road—WTF? Keep driving, people!
Posted by Colin at 9:00 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 11, 2006

Printing Photos

I've been kicking around the idea of picking up a serious Epson photo printer for quite a while now.

Having used the Stylus Photo 2200 today, I'm just that much closer to actually going out and doing it. Churned out a gorgeous 8x10 print with a very close match to the colors on screen (and that was only using the by-hand monitor calibration built into Mac OS X).

The question now is which printer.

At first blush, the R2400 (which directly replaces the 2200) is way too expensive to consider, at an MSRP of almost $900. Shop around and you can find it for around $790, but still.

Its little brother is the R1800, but it's so limited in comparison that the $300 you save doesn't really end up being worth it. Its bread and butter is glossies (I prefer pearl/lustre/matte), it's not designed for heavy black-and-white use (I dig B&W), and it can't accept thicker papers like the R2400 can (nice watercolor paper is fun).

The solution looks an awful lot like hitting the used market. Save some money, get a perfectly workable old model someone else has tired of... Hooray cheapskates!

Posted by Colin at 5:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack