Apr 282006

As this post shows up, Anna and I will be sitting on a train, headed to LAX. After we arrive and get settled, we will spend 18 hours smashed together in a plane, plus some downtime between flights (LAX->Taipei->Bangkok->Siem Reap). I can’t say I’m looking forward to that part of this vacation.

Here is our rough itinerary for the next two weeks:

Siem Reap, Cambodia from Sunday 30th at 4 PM – Thursday May 4th at 5 PM (Weather forecast) Most of the focus of this stage of the trip will be on Angkor, a massive city/temple complex near the town of Siem Reap. I’m expecting we will eventually get over-templed and explore the rest of the town & nearby countryside.

Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam from Thursday May 4th at 6 PM – Tuesday May 9th at 9 AM (Weather forecast) We will probably spend most of our time exploring the city, wandering around places like Cholon (Chinatown). I expect we will try to do at least a day trip to the Mekong Delta and maybe Vang Tau (beaches) if we have time.

Hanoi, Vietnam from Tuesday May 9th at noon – Sat May 13 at noon. (Weather forecast) Hanoi should be an interesting city to explore, I’m looking forward to it. We are planning to spend some time in Halong Bay, but aren’t quite sure how we want to do it – kayak vs. junk, number of days, etc.

I am getting giddy.

Apr 272006

Anna and I are leaving out of LAX this Friday (actually 1am Saturday) for SE Asia. We usually take Amtrak up the coast (3 hours) to Union Station in downtown LA. From there we had to take three different metro trains to get to the shuttle that takes us to LAX. This is time consuming, and a pain in the ass.

While brushing up on the route last night I learned that we now have a new option – FlyAway. It looks pretty slick, direct bus to LAX for $3. Since it uses HOV lanes, it should be pretty speedy. We are going to give it a try.

I’m getting excited about our trip, but there is still a lot to be done before we leave.

Apr 192006

(Must. Stop. Buying)

Hand grip
I guess I’m not the neck strap type. I found the strap was always in the way with my holding style, and I didn’t like the way the camera hung on the strap anyway. That left me needing a new way to secure the camera. I’m pretty sure if I didn’t secure it, I would eventually trip/hit a bump/slip and drop the thing.

Enter the Hakuba LH hand grip. Since I didn’t want the battery grip, that cut off most options for a hand strap, and the remaining options seemed expensive. At $18, it fits the cheap bill, and seems to work great after a little material trimming.

The grip attaches to the tripod mount to secure the bottom end of the strap. This changed my grip a bit – there is a small strip of plastic under the bottom of the camera (1/3 inch?) that my pinkie ends up resting on, under the camera body. It didn’t bother me much, but if you usually curl your pinkie under the camera body, it might feel weird. Outside of a few short holsterings, I walked around with the camera hanging off my paw for about 4 hours at the march last weekend. The camera always felt secure, and my hand didn’t get tired.

My old ultra pod table top tripod just wasn’t going to hack the new camera. I was tempted to just try the ultrapod II, but I’ve been wanting to get a decent sized tripod for a while anyway. The issues were price (light tripods usually start at $200), and size & weight (most “light” tripods are still over 3 pounds). In other words, I didn’t want anything I couldn’t just throw in a messenger bag. It seemed like an impossible request, but I think I’ve found a match with the Velbon Ultra Maxis (aka Ultra-Maxi-SF?).

The tripod is a bit over a pound and a half, has a usable ball head, compacts to slightly more than a foot, and expands to just under 5 feet tall. The weight limit on the head is around 5 pounds, so my 2 pound camera & lens combo is supported with ease. Legs can be a bit fussy, but once you have the lock-twist figured out, they are pretty easy to use. More importantly, they also seem to be quite strong and sturdy. At $90 with free shipping (though amazon seems to have jacked the price up $10 now) it is a steal compared to what I would have paid in the semi-pro tripod world.

Polarizing filter
I wasn’t about to pay the sticker prices for the Hoya PRO1 circular polarizer at US shops. A quick eBay search turned up some $65 options from China, but still made in Japan. I was skeptical, but it seems to be the genuine article based on the build quality. I haven’t had a chance to play with it a whole lot, but my short tests suggest it will have a bit of a learning curve.

Extra battery
I rarely use the flash, so I can usually get quite a few images out of a single charge. But, it is always nice to have extra juice. The SterlingTek replacement battery claims 1500 mAh compared with the roughly 800 mAh of the regular Canon batteries. It does seem to hold up longer than the battery that shipped with my camera, but I don’t know if I would say it lasts twice as long. It works great, seems to be decent quality, and at $9.95, you can buy four of them for the same price as a Canon battery.

Extra memory card
At a bit over $100 for 2gb, there are better deals around. But I picked the SanDisk Extreme III for two reasons. The first is speed – this card is consistently speedy in cameras as well as memory readers. The second is that it is rated for “extreme” temperatures. Probably not a big deal for most people, but I have taken photos in some pretty blistering heat before, and would rather just avoid any potential points of failure. Plus, if I do something stupid, like send the card through the wash, or leave it on the dash of a car window, these have a better chance of survival. SanDisk also provides some image recovery software and services, so that doesn’t hurt either.

Portable backup device
After much thought, and help from others, I decided to go the Nexto CF route. I went with this enclosure for a few reasons 1) Great reviews online of the device 2) Very speedy 3) Decent battery life. I might end up going a different route in the future, but I think a fast & portable CF backup will be useful for some time. I’ll probably write up some of my impressions about the device soon.

Camera bag
I tried to figure out how to have a case or insert that will work in my simple messenger bag (or other packs). I played around with some inserts from domke, but it was ultimately going to be a pain in the ass to re-fit and secure them.

I ended looking into using my Lowepro Rezo TLZ 20 as an insert. The bag is cheap (<$30), and light once you get rid of the top handle & strap. It has side loops, so you can clip it to the front sternum straps of a backpack, and a belt loop so it can go on your belt (pants or pack). But I've also found that you can fold the lid inside out and lock it to itself around the outside of the case (folded over the back). Once that is done, the case is pretty much just like a top loading insert, with padding and a bit of shape (its stiff on the sides). I wanted a way to slap that into my messenger bag, but it has been a bit tricky. It is easy to put it in a bag, but my messenger bag is lightweight, and doesn't really have any structure to it. Once you clip some weight to the top of the bag, it sort of folds in on itself. But I think I have it figured out - I have sewn straps inside the bag to connect the belt loop and the front of the bag, then added an extra strap on the insert to strap to the other side of the bag. It does a decent job of should staying in place, but is also easy to add and remove. I think I'm all set. I had better be, I'm broke.

Apr 172006

Desert View Tower Desert View Tower Desert View Tower Desert View Tower

A bit late, oh well. A few weeks back Anna and I took my parents to see Desert View Tower in Jacumba. Having never been myself, we didn’t really know what to expect. I loved it.

The tower and the springs have some amazing views of Imperial Valley and the curious boulder-pile mountains that surround it. Boulder Park, filled with windy caverns and depression era carvings is also pretty cool. But the character that ran the place and the eclectic detritus stuffed into the tower were definitely highlights as well. I don’t know of any other place in San Diego that has a better old-folksy-hippie-vibe. Worth a visit. If you have kids, you may have to taser them to get them back in the car when it is time to leave.

The weather was a bit nasty when we went, but that just means dramatic skies. I managed to get some decent panoramic photos:

View from the tower
View from the springs

Apr 102006

HR 4437 protest march HR 4437 protest march HR 4437 protest march

Billed as The March for Dignity, Respect and Hope, Sunday’s march was huge. It depends on who you ask, but the range seems to be 50-100k people. As expected, there were a lot of separate agendas on display – pinche bush, no borders, legalize everyone, random religious messages, etc. But everyone seemed to agree that criminalizing undocumented immigrants was a bad idea, and that worker programs are in need of an upgrade.

Anna, Phil, and I headed up to 6th and Laurel to meet up with the start of the march. The march headed down 6th to Broadway, then Broadway to Pacific Highway to the County Building, where they had a rally deal set up. It was staggering to see this many people. An hour after we arrived at the County Building, people were still lined up Broadway. Completely peaceful, clean (no litter), and relatively well managed. They could have done a better job with traffic and porta potties, but I think they were overwhelmed by the turnout. Overall, an amazing success for the organizers.

Apr 092006

Anna and I have received several invitations to parties with free booze and food. Phone calls, emails, coupons, and trinkets in the mail. We are being courted. The gravy train that was so enviable these last 5 years is starting to grind to a halt. Fighting over scraps, cards are offered at the slightest provocation. Blood is in the water, and our suitors are getting desperate.

As a cold hearted bastard, I find the whole thing amusing. If you are of a similar persuasion, you will probably want to click this link: “Downtown San Diego Condo Rave, Drinks,Sushi,Fashion&neg-am io financing“.

It has it all – suspiciously handsome neighbors in skimpies, an ice block logo, and a DJ. The commentary and photos are well worth the clicky. You know you want to. (via SD Blog & MetaFi)

I’d like to link another gem – Regulators To Issue Mortgage Warning. The gritties:

“As the real estate market slows, some mortgage lenders are trying to prop up profits by relaxing lending standards for certain types of loans, endangering borrowers and financial institutions, a top banking regulator said yesterday…Reich said regulators are “closely monitoring” the growth of loan types in which the payments can suddenly double, creating a payment shock that could force borrowers into foreclosure if housing values were to fall and could also cause financial losses for the lenders who make the loans. Reich called the increase in such lending troubling. He noted that regulators are crafting a specific warning to the industry, known as a guidance, that will restrict the use of these loans. It could be issued within the next few months.”

There could be some clouds on the horizon when these ARMs hit the 3 year mark.