Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hotel Checkin Scam

My hotel room phone rang Friday night at 11:34pm. The man with the Texas accent on the other end patiently explained that he was the hotel manager, there had been a problem with my registration with the hotel, that he was sorry, and that they would give me a 25% discount on my stay. But first, for insurance reasons, they needed to put my check-in information back into the computer. I could do this over the phone, or down at the front desk.

Immediately, tiny alarm bells went off in my head. First, we had recently checked in, and I had made my initial reservation online.  How could it be that they lost my information?

Second, the man who checked me in at the front desk was of Indian decent. He spoke with a mild Indian accent. I stay at Best Westerns quite frequently (I like them), and they often seem to be run as family operations. A manager with a strong Texan accent seemed possible, but just different enough from my expectation that I was put on guard.

I asked what information was needed, and the Texan thief replied, "Oh, I need all the checkin information you would have given the front desk."

"Like what?"

"Oh, well, did you pay with cash or credit card?"

"Credit card. Why does that matter for insurance purposes?"

"Oh, well, we need that information to make the record complete. You can come down to the front desk and give us the information there if you prefer."

"Ok, I'll be right down."

"OK, bye."

I rode the elevator to the lobby where the (still Indian) manager at the front desk offered me this enthusiastic wisdom: "Oh, it's a scam that's going around. Never give out your personal information!"

I laughed, thanked him, and returned to my room.

Clearly the Texan thief was playing a couple of tricks to get my information. He called my room late at night (not long after checking in either), which might catch folks in a vulnerable frame of mind. Most guests would be in bed, sleepy, and not inclined to do much more than get rid of the man on the phone as quickly as possible.

The thief offered a dumb story about insurance, which fits with most people's idea of the industry: dumb and inconvenient. "Wow, gosh, it figures that those insurance guys want to ruin my vacation too! If there is one thing that this thief and I can agree on, it's that insurance companies make life difficult. I remember my second cousin Alfred, his house got flooded by a hurricane, but the insurance company said that the wind blew the water into the house, and he didn't have enough wind insurance!" And so on.

The identity thief also offered money (25% off my room), and he offered the less convenient (but useless to his scam) choice to visit the front desk. Why would a thief offer the option to go to the front desk? Plausibility. Except that a 25% discount sounded a bit too good to be true. Although $25 for a 5 minute conversation sounds like a OK consulting rate, it is rare that businesses value their customers time at even close to $300/hour.

I also felt like I was being railroaded into two courses of action by the thief. If you can pull it off, multiple choice has lovely negotiating results: "you can give us money this way, or you can give us money that way!" If you don't pull it off, then I might come up with imaginative alternatives to your railroad tracks:

  • I could demand that you come up to my room, show an ID, and take my personal information through the little gap the security chain allows for
  • I could hang up and dial the front desk and ask about the call
  • I could pack up, throw the TV through the hotel window in a fit of anger, and drive to another hotel
  • I could tell the caller that it's not my problem that they lost my information

Encounters like these are another reason why learning about negotiation has a lot of value. When I recognize gambits, I immediately go into a more problem-solving, cautious frame of mind. If you're interested in an entertaining and educational read on the subject, I suggest Secrets of Power Negotiating*, by Roger Dawson.

Like the Manager at the Best Western says: Never give out your personal information. Such wisdom. I'm glad I didn't defenestrate the television.

*Moving Average Inc. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Buying items through this link is much appreciated!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Spirit of BoS 2012: a Scholar's Account

Tower building at a #bos2012 workshop. Yes, the Business of Software Conference + Marshmallows.When I returned to work after this year's Business of Software Conference, I was unable to give a very good summary of the proceedings. Yes, I had learned a lot, I had met hundreds of wonderful, generous, successful entrepreneurs and developers. I even had a notebook stuffed with ideas and insights. But when my co-worker asked me how the conference went, the word "awesome" was really the best I could do. My slow brain is still processing the events of last week.

Lucky for me, Andrei Pop has done a lovely job of summarizing the spirit of BoS2012. Andrei was one of three recipients of my 2012 Business of Software Student & Recent Grad Scholarships (through my company Moving Average Inc.)

Read what Andrei has to say. You'll understand why the Business of Software Conference is my favorite conference.

*Updated 2013 March 25 to fix broken links to Andrei's posts.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Business of Software 2012 Scholarship

Clayton Christensen Makes us Laugh
Students who are serious about starting a real business need to attend the Business of Software Conference. A student might think that she already has everything she needs to build a business. She'll have a degree. She subscribes to Fast Company and Inc. magazine. She reads Hacker News religiously between classes, and follows the top VCs on Twitter and Google+. She even created an anonymous online social network to organize lock-picking field trips through the steam tunnels on campus. Pick/Up has matching iPhone and Android apps, natch.

But I bet she hasn't had the opportunity to meet and learn from founders who are quietly operating successful, sustainable, and profitable software businesses around the world. Until she's met that one Dane who sells image stitching and recovery software for a living, she has no idea how straightforward a software business can be. No subscriptions or viral marketing required. How can that be enough to pay the bills?

Karl Treier
And then there is that guy that suggests that you talk to customers face to face like they did in 19th century France before the internet was invented. He also suggests that all those social media and business rules might be wrong because he has such great success ignoring them. Why doesn't he just find a business co-founder to tell him what to build? Why doesn't he just believe what he reads in articles with titles like "N Ways to Double Your ____"?

Oh, and what about that guy who sold his company for a fortune and then locked all his money into a charitable trust? He reduced all his belongings to two carry-on bags and one bike. Why would you do that? Doesn't he know that you can have two bags and still be rich?

Then there is this Business Professor, who sounds like a qualified conference speaker. But instead of talking about business plans and venture capital, he talks about what job a milkshake does! Where do they find these people? Everyone knows what a shake does. You put it in your mouth. You drink it. Why doesn't a restaurant just make the best shake and be done with it? You don't need an advanced degree for that, do you?

Minimum Viable Product
This other fellow has a strange idea: he wants you to try to start selling your product before you even build it. Literally. He picks a name, puts a web page up, invents prices, and lists the features. The entrepreneur only builds it if there is enough demand. Except he doesn't build it. He pays a contractor to build it. Is this even really a software business?

Delegates meet people who are like them, share experiences, and share knowledge. It helps knowing that there are other people out there who are like-minded, friendly, and are on the same path. And you also meet people that aren't like you, who have amazing crazy ideas, and completely different businesses than you do, and that's interesting and useful too.

Dharmesh Shah
Students are at a point in their life when they can most easily take a chance and try out a few of these different viewpoints and ideas. The one problem is that the conference is expensive by student standards. But I can help with that.

For the second year I'm sponsoring student / recent grad scholarships to the Business of Software conference through my business, Moving Average Inc. The scholarship gets you into the conference. You'll still be responsible for getting there and finding a place to stay, but you're resourceful. You'll get a ride and surf on a few couches. Then you'll have a wonderful experience making friends and learning.

If you're an interested student or recent grad and you can make it to Boston October 1-3, please visit the Business of Software Blog to learn how to apply for the scholarship.

I hope to see you in Boston!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Lightest Camera Bag?

Update September 6, 2016: you can find a newer version of this review here. It has lots of new information on how I've improved how I pad my camera.

Most camera bags seem like they were designed so that wrestlers can take a few shots in between bouts of being hit with folding chairs. The bags are heavy, padded, and generally bulky.

If I'm hauling a lot of gear to work, or on an airplane, the wrestler-style bags are wonderful. I like that I can fit my entire office and almost all of my camera equipment into my Think Tank Urban Disguise 60 V2.0.

But if I'm walking around the city or attending a food event, the wrestler bags are just too much. The wrestler bags are too heavy, too bulky, and seem to universally make my shoulders sore and sweaty.

I've spent some time looking for the "perfect" camera bag. If you read many photography websites, you'll find that bags are a popular topic. There are tons of options out there.

With the possible exception of Gura Gear bags, they all seem to trend towards greater complexity and padding, and so on. Even the Gura Gear Chobe 19-24L weights "less than the 3 lb mark" without the padding, and "well below the 4 lb mark" with the padding. I'd expect a bag made from sail cloth to be a bit lighter.

My Canon 7D with the EF-S 17-55mm f2.8 IS lens only weighs 3.7 pounds combined (including lens hood). Does the container for the camera really need to weigh as much as the camera? These wrestler bags seem like the luggage equivalent of buying an over-priced extended warranty for a consumer item. In the unlikely event that I'm hit with a folding chair, I'll be glad for that bag. But while I'm waiting for that chair should I suffer through the shoulder pain?

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Courier as pouch
The Patagonia Lightweight Travel Courier folded into a pouch.
My search for a better walk-about camera bag led me to the Patagonia Lightweight Travel Courier. The Travel Courier is a lightweight, simple bag that folds into a tiny pouch. It's made of ripstop nylon and mesh, and other bits. It looks very minimalist, maybe even a tad strange. But the concept and execution are brilliant.

The zippers are super-smooth with little grabbies added to make them easy to find. The strap is made of a squishy mesh which lets a little air through, and offers a little padding along the entire length of the strap.

Inside the main compartment, there is a smaller zippered compartment big enough to fit a cell phone or wallet. This pocket reverses,  and the entire bag stuffs inside for packing. The bag has a smaller zippered pocket in front, which is ideal for a lens cloth, sunglasses, or a phone. The zippers are all of the super-smooth YKK variety, which bag nerds seem to appreciate.

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Courier with Domke Wrap
The Domke wrap next to the un-packed Travel Courier.
Remember, this bag has no padding at all. The material, while strong, is thin enough that you can see through it when the light is right. Without contents, the bag lies flat. When the bag actually contains stuff, the clever design works to give it some nice structure. There is a loop of elastic cord captured in the fabric at the top of the bag surrounding the opening to the main compartment. This cord gives the bag some structure and shape. It also seems to help prevent your stuff from dumping out of the bag when open. The design impresses me with it's clever minimalism. Unlike many bags, the shoulder strap attaches to the bag at the very top. There is little chance of the bag capsizing when held by the strap.

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Courier with Domke Wrap inside Do I trust this bag to carry my camera unpadded? Heck no. While I don't need my bag to take body blows, it will occasionally be jostled and set down on hard surfaces. I add padding to the bag in the form of the Domke F-34L 19-Inch Protective Wrap. The wrap is a large square of padded cloth. A strip of velcro-like fastener lives at each corner of the wrap, allowing the user to secure the padding as they see fit.

To use the wrap in the bag, I fold it into a simple trough shape with each corner attached to a neighbor as seen in the photos. This protective envelope fits perfectly into the bag, giving it shape, and a lightly padded cradle for my dSLR.

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Courier with Domke Wrap and 7D inside According to my kitchen scale, the combination of bag and wrap weighs 10.36 oz, which is about 0.6 pounds. That weight seems a lot more reasonable when compared to the weight of my camera.

This is the bag I've been using for a couple of weeks now. The dSLR goes into the now padded main compartment, my Lytro camera goes into one of the mesh water bottle pockets on the side, and my 4G iPad goes into the spot between the wrap and the back of the bag.

So far, this is the best camera bag I've ever owned. I find it lightweight, more comfortable to wear than a camera on a strap, and quite handy. I also think it makes me significantly less sweaty than a bag with traditional shoulder straps.

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Courier with camera supported by strap
The Travel Courier full loaded with dSLR and lens, held by the strap.
Incidentally, since getting this bag I have not used my Black Rapid strap.

*Moving Average Inc. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to We also participate in Patagonia's affiliate program. Buying from these links helps to support Engineering Adventure.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Lytro Longterm: Fun and Crazy

Wow, I've had my Lytro for almost a Month now. When I first got my Lytro, I admit that aspects of the Lytro felt like a bit of a letdown. Today, after shooting hundreds of photos with it, meeting CEO Ren Ng and Director of Photography Eric Cheng at the Lytro Photowalk, I've decided that using the Lytro is a lot of fun.

How is the Lytro fun? Well first of all, it looks different. Folks don't recognize the little aluminum tube as a camera. The way some folks give it worried glances, I wonder if they don't think it's a Geiger counter or some other measure of danger. "Daddy, why is that man checking his food for radiation?"

If you start pointing an electric-blue aluminium tube at things, folks will want to talk to you about it.

Speed makes the Lytro fun too. When the Lytro is in "Everyday mode," the photographer can just bang away on the shutter release if the exposure looks OK and the subjects are within the Refocus Range. The only editing you can perform to the photo is to set the initial focus point for the image when you share it -- vastly restricted editing saves time too.

But most of all, the unusual capabilities and limitations of the Lytro turns photography into a fun, thoughtful game. Sometimes that game drives me crazy and I pick up my SLR. Sometimes the Lytro game really encourages my creativity and I forget about my SLR. Besides "fun", I use the adjectives "challenging", "weird", and occasionally "maddening" for the Lytro. You'll see why as you read on.

Refocus Range

The term Refocus Range describes a certain Lytro behavior fairly well. Photos taken with the Lytro allow you change the focus of a photograph after it has been made, but only within certain bounds.

It is not possible to refocus a Lytro image from 0 inches to infinity after the fact -- not in one exposure. If you thought that unbounded refocusing was the promise of Lytro, I bet you're not alone. Until I received my Lytro, I didn't understand that the ability to refocus depended on the configuration of the camera when the image was taken.

When the Lytro is set to Everyday Mode, the Refocus Range seems to always extend to infinity, but the closest end of the Refocus Range varies depending on the zoom level. In Everyday Mode, the zoom is limited to 3.5X. I suspect this design decision was made because the minimum refocusable distance would start getting very far away if the further bound were still pinned to infinity.

As Ren explained to me at SXSW, at the widest focal length  (i.e. 1X zoom) and in Everyday Mode, the closest end of the Refocus Range is a bit less than the length of the camera's body away from the front of the Lytro. Setting the Lytro to Everyday Mode and setting the zoom to 1X seems like the easiest method to quickly grab close-up photos and to shoot street photography.

When fully zoomed in while in Everyday Mode, the closest end of the Refocus Range falls about six to eight feet from the end of the Lytro. Zoomed in, you lose the flexibility of close-up shots.

In Creative Mode, the user gets to select the center of the Refocus Range by tapping the screen. I think. I'm actually not sure if it sets the center of the range or if it sets the closer end. Like Everyday Mode, the Refocus Range gets smaller as you zoom in -- and you get a lot more zoom in Creative Mode.

To capture the most dramatic refocus range, you'll want at least one object at the closest edge of the Refocus Range. I find it quite easy to take a photo with no noticeable ability to refocus, so this rule is useful to keep in mind while shooting.

Shutter Speed

Photographers can't control the Lytro's shutter speed, and speeds higher than 1/250th of a second aren't possible. Of course, in many cases, this works out fine. However, stopping motion or resisting camera shake would be a lot easier if I could force a faster shutter speed. 1/250th of a second is great except when the Lytro is zoomed in close or the subject is moving.

Speaking of camera shake, the Lytro has no optical stabilization and no threaded tripod mount. I really hope the next generation of Lytro has some way to mount the device to a tripod. In case you're wondering, no, I don't feel like a tripod mount would be a replacement for a faster shutter.

Experienced photographers might wonder how the Lytro gets away with a fastest shutter speed of 1/250th of a second at f2.0. I'm fairly certain that the Lytro has an internal neutral density filter that automatically snaps into position when the amount of light exceeds the required shutter speed. I can hear it clicking when moving from indoors to outdoors. 


The Lytro's exposure works similarly to that of the camera on the iPhone when in Everyday Mode. The user taps the screen to select the area to expose for. If you don't tap the screen, the device seems to slowly move towards an averaged exposure setting for the scene.

This brings up hint #1: if you want to expose somewhere between the average exposure and the spot exposure from tapping the screen, tap on the screen and then wait for the exposure you want. If you have a bright back light, but want to under-expose the foreground objects a little bit, tap on the foreground object. Once the exposure is set for the foreground object, wait a bit. The Lytro's exposure setting will slowly settle back to the average exposure. Take the photo when it looks good. Update: Hmm, this trick doesn't seem to work like I thought. It looks like the exposure set by tapping is held unless the camera detects that the scene has changed -- then it switches back to average exposure. Sorry!

All of this would be easier if you could set an exposure compensation. Perhaps a future firmware upgrade will add the feature.

In Creative Mode, the Lytro only performs an averaged exposure of the image. According to the manual, touching the screen will only change the focus, not the exposure.

Static Image Size

Lytro advertises their first camera as an 11 Megaray Light Field Camera. The files it produces weight in at about 16.1 MB each. However, exporting the files to JPEG from the Lytro Desktop Software produces a square image 1080 pixels on a side. This is about 1.2 Megapixels. Scott Bourne has indicated in his Lytro review that this will produce an acceptable 5 x 5 print, which seems about right.

The concept of 5 x 5 inch prints seems OK to me, but in reality the size and shape sound a bit inconvenient. Where do I print a 5 x 5 photo? How do I frame it?

Perhaps Lytro will go into the printing business, or partner up with a printing business to make this easier. Or perhaps Lytro will sell square digital picture frames with touch screens to hang on your wall -- that would be fun.

The Lytro image quality documentation implies that the resolution capabilities might be improved with future software updates. In fact, there are a lot of features and image quality areas which seem possible with future Lytro software updates and the same hardware. The notion of improving resolution with a software update boggles my mind. I'm really excited to watch new features roll in with software upgrades!

Desktop Software

The Lytro Desktop software manages the process of getting the photos off the Lytro, on to the computer, and then optionally sharing them to Facebook or the Lytro web page. The software also allows the user to "star" photos, caption them, and see standard information about each photo including: shutter speed, ISO (ranging from 80 to 3200, as far as I can tell), focal length, date, mode, and f-stop (always 2.0).

As I mentioned in my previous article, you can also "star" images from the camera itself. When you plug the camera in, the starred photos get downloaded and processed first, a brilliant idea. And speaking of processing, it takes some time for my 2nd generation MacBook Air to churn through processing the images.

The big Lytro User Manual indicates that an "All in focus" feature will be coming to the desktop software sometime in the future. This isn't quite the comprehensive focus control knobs I was asking for in my previous post, but I'm sure I would still occasionally use the feature.

Among the critical things that the software doesn't do (but maybe should) is allow the user to create multiple image libraries. My hard drive is rapidly filling up with hundreds of 16MB Lytro files.

You might expect that I could copy the library to a different volume and open it by double clicking. Unfortunately, if the library isn't in your Pictures folder, double clicking on it will cause the Lytro app to create a new library in the Pictures folder rather than actually open the library you double clicked. Frustrating!

I really hope that Lytro updates the software so that I can move some libraries on to my Drobo redundant storage. I probably can do some file juggling tricks to achieve this now, but I'd prefer a less annoying way to manage my photos.


When refocusing works, the effect can feel dramatic. When it fails, the effect can be annoying. I have taken several photos which just don't seem possible to focus. It doesn't matter what focal plane I'm clicking on, the result never seems sharp. This problem drives me bonkers.

At least some of these photos were shot in Everyday Mode, so I don't think that I have the Refocus Range set incorrectly. I'm not sure what causes the problem, but my current theory is that my hand was shaking too much when I took the photo. Unfortunately, looking for softness on the tiny Lytro screen makes me want to sigh in exasperation.

Refocusing can also seem futile if my composition doesn't result in a visible change of focus. Without nice refocusability, why didn't I just use a SLR so I could at least make a big print and do lots of editing?


As I previously noted, the Lytro comes with a magnetic lens cap. I love the idea. In practice, the tiny rubberized square falls off way too easily. At the SXSW Lytro photowalk, one of the other owners had already lost their cap. I think the cap needs stronger magnets or a lanyard.

I'm also a bit concerned about packing the Lytro. The device seems strong, but I'd still like some padding for it and some protection for the lens other than the cap which frequently falls of. Right now I'm protecting the camera with a LensCoat BodyBag that I use for my SLR. The LensCoat is far too large, but I'd love a similar neoprene case form-fit for the Lytro. Maybe it could have a pocket for that pesky lens cap, and a clip or loop for attaching it to my bag or belt.

What about tripods? As I mentioned previously, I'd like to be able to use the Lytro on a tripod. A standard threaded hole or add-on mounting accessory would be appreciated.

And while I'm at it, I'd love somebody to make a ring light accessory for the Lytro. It could be as simple as a square of white LEDs that fits on the end of the camera for macro shots. That would rock.


The square shape of the Lytro photos offers photographers a nice creative challenge. Like traditional photography, you want to separate or juxtapose different objects in the frame. Unlike traditional photography, you also want to separate at least one object on a different focal plane. Lining up objects in different focal planes works OK, but often feels more cramped in the square format.

One composition idea: consider dividing the image into quadrants and putting different focal planes into at least one quadrant. An interesting foreground object against an interesting background also works well.

Another nice trick I've seen  really creative photographers use is to hide a surprise in details which will be hidden by focus blur until a viewer explores the image. These seem more difficult to pull off.

Imagine an expensive sports car parked on the street. Until you click on the parking meter, you don't realize that it's expired. Oh, and if I click on the background -- is that a meter maid on the way? These reveal shots will be fun.

Shooting reflections can be interesting too -- the reflecting surface will be on a different focal plane from the reflected object. I tried this with the scratched-up display of my phone, but it didn't quite turn out. A few more attempts would probably get this working. I recently saw a photography blog post titled "Photographing Cars Is Basically Like Photographing Mirrors". Does that give you any ideas?

What is it Good For?

The Lytro excels in a few fun areas of photography. Macro photography can look amazing in a Lytro photo. Typical macro photos have a very narrow depth of field unless the photographer had lots of light available or a still subject and tripod. In a Lytro macro photo, the viewer can explore the image even though only a narrow sliver of the photo is focused at a time. The Lytro benefits from lots of light too, but it seems far easier to take a casual macro photo with the Lytro than anything else.

The Lytro loves lots of light and bright colors. The Lytro can go up to 3200 ISO, and it looks OK there (not spectacular). It obviously looks best at lower ISOs, but if the subject is interesting enough the noise shouldn't matter. 

In everyday mode, the Lytro is fantastic for street photography. The Lytro is small and doesn't look like a camera, so it won't necessarily occur to your subjects that they should pose for the camera. The lack of focusing and relatively fast shot-to-shot time means that it is easy to fire off several different shots quickly.

The shape of the camera complements the speed. Because it is easy to see what the camera is pointing at, I can take photos without even looking at the screen. I don't care too much for the screen, so this feature is useful. You can also jam the Lytro into awkward to reach places to snap a few shots without having to focus or look at the screen.

For portraits you can hold the camera in unusual orientations and eyeball the framing with a decent success rate. Try holding the Lytro above your head or below your waist to tell a different story about your subject. Fun! They Lytro desktop software will automatically rotate images for you if you shot a photo upside down.

Final Thoughts

I enjoy taking photos with the Lytro because there is so little to do after taking the photo. The Lytro is like an old-fashioned Polaroid camera -- after you take the photo, you either keep it or toss it. The lack of editing responsibility allows me to generate a constant stream of photos to share. I don't have a Lytro editing queue, but I have a long editing queue for my SLR.

The lack of editing also encourages the photographer to look for a good story. Without funky filters to play with, a good story is the best way to keep a photo interesting. I enjoy the challenge.

I expect that in the future, a lot of this missing functionality will be added in software updates. Some Lytro folks at the SXSW photowalk mentioned the possibility of filters for the desktop software. I also got to see a tiny, but impressive demonstration of the upcoming 3d capabilities yet to be unlocked in the current Lytro. I'm super excited to see that released.

The design intent of the Lytro seems to aim at turning the fun and interesting knobs up to eleven. It isn't attempting to replace SLRs, or even high-end point and shoot cameras -- not in my opinion. Since getting the Lytro, I've kept it in my camera bag right next to my Canon 7D. When I'm looking to have some low-friction fun, I pull the Lytro out. If I see an opportunity where the Lytro would excel, it's in my hands taking photos in a heartbeat.

If you're a serious photographer looking for the one camera to carry everywhere, the Lytro probably is not the one. Not yet, at least. But if you're a photographer who enjoys a fun challenge and would like a tool to help create unique photo experiences, take a serious look at the Lytro. The Lytro has me taking photos when I wouldn't otherwise think to reach for a camera.


Photofocus: Ten Things People Don’t Know (Or Have Wrong) About The New Lytro Field Camera
My Personal Lytro Photos

*Moving Average Inc. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Friday, March 2, 2012

Lytro First Impressions

Update: I got a few things wrong in this post. First of all, it is possible to export a JPEG image from the desktop software. Right-clicking on the photo will reveal the export option. Second, the Lytro does have an accelerometer inside, and the orientation of the photo is corrected in the desktop software. Sorry about that! 3/28/2012

I can finally scoot back off the edge of my chair. My blue Lytro camera arrived today. The camera is weird. Weird good? Weird bad? I'm not sure. These are some random thoughts I have after walking around to take a few photos. I'll try to avoid covering stuff other reviews noted (The Verge, Scoble) noted.

Although I have been reading up on the Lytro, there are a few things I didn't realize. First, the lens cap is a magnetic chunk of grey and black rubber. Pretty cool, but without a tether of some sort, it seems likely to get lost.

The second weird thing: off doesn't mean off. After the Lytro has been switched off for a few seconds, it reactivates and changes the zoom level. I can feel the vibrations when it happens. I bet the designers felt the wide angle was probably more useful when you switch the camera on.

I also didn't expect that you could use the shutter button to turn the camera on. Nice shortcut.

Without looking, just about the only feature I can feel on the Lytro is the shutter button. Traditional cameras might not look as cool as the Lytro, but finding the top is easy.

Other reviewers have noted it, but the display feels like looking through a screen door. The pixels are fat with distinct borders around them.

In viewfinder mode, the Lytro draws a little blue frame around the image. Is this color matched to each of the three colors? I don't know. It seems like a waste of the few pixels available though. Update: the blue frame around the image indicates that the camera is in Creative Mode rather than Everyday Mode. Reading the manual helps...

The touch screen works well for some gestures, and has a hard time with others. I like that you can "star" photos on the camera (and that those photos will be given priority in the intensive processing the software performs to make the photos usable). The starring feature is brilliant. But tapping the star can seem impossible. It takes me three tries on average. My fingers must be fat.

The Lytro makes a click when transitioning from dark surroundings to bright surroundings. So far I have not seen an aperture other than f2.0. Is there a Neutral Density filter popping in and out of there to regulate light?

The bottom of the Lytro reads "Designed in California Made in China". That sounds familiar.

Suggestions to Lytro (AKA John's wish list)

  • Allow the zoom slider to optionally behave like a rocker switch, or make both ends of the slide continue the zoom direction until the finger is lifted. Scrubbing is boring.
  • Put an accelerometer in the device, and let the user shoot upright in any of the four orientations. I think I might rather use my thumb for the shutter button. Update: I was wrong. The desktop software automatically fixes the orientation.
  • Let users choose the focus point with a sliders (e.g. in feet or meters). Extra points for the ability to change the depth of field.
  • Let me output jpeg files from the desktop software! Update: Again I was wrong. Right click on a photo in the desktop software to get to the export menu.
  • Add some sort of clip or hole to the lens cap so that it won't be lost.
  • Add a clip to the side of the Lytro so I can carry it on my belt.
  • Add something to the design so I can feel which side is up, and feel where the zoom slider is better.
  • A Lightroom or Aperture workflow would be nice!
  • The lens cap is magnetic. Why not behave like the iPad and turn the camera on and off using the lens cap?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Followup: Zeo Sleep Manager Mobile

A few months ago, I wrote about my first experiences with the Zeo Sleep Managet Mobile. At the time, I was having connectivity issues with the Zeo. I had a difficult time getting the Zeo to connect to my mobile devices, and to stay connected.

I'm happy to report that after a firmware update the Zeo consistently pairs with my Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and keeps the connection overnight. There is one caveat: I need to reconnect the Zeo before I go to sleep each night by turning bluetooth off and on again. This restart of bluetooth on my tablet is easy to do from the app, even if it does make the use of the Zeo a bit less graceful.

To be fair the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is not in Zeo's list of explicitly supported Android devices. This is a huge improvement over what I reported in November. Having had some experience with both mobile app development and mobile communication with bluetooth, I think they've made nice progress.

Ideas for Improvement

In use of the App, one feature I kept missing was the ability to log some data along with my sleep data. Zeo's marketing materials suggest that it is possible to perform experiments on your sleep quality. The prevalent example is to measure the effect of coffee consumption on sleep.

I don't see any way to record data or perform experiments within the app, one of the primary motivations behind my purchase. Since I'm a mobile app developer, it is difficult to bring myself to write this sort of data on paper. The indignity!

Technical Notes

One last thing: the firmware update to the headband wasn't the most relaxing thing in the world. On the Mac, it required the installation of a kernel extension. Scary.

I'm expect that new headbands are shipping with the latest firmware, and that no further updates will be needed. If so, this shouldn't be an issue for future users.

I bet I'll need to make another update on Zeo's progress as the product improves over the next few months. Cheers!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Scary Business Metrics and Zappos

Metrics feel scary sometimes. The VP of Sales and Marketing at one startup I worked with was terrified of numeric accountability. He treated web traffic like a state secret. The number of potential customers spoken to? According to him, that's not important, and it's a secret anyhow.

Contrast that with Zappos. Zappos really faces numeric fear head on: they put call center stats on the wall where even silly tourists can see them! And then, when the tourists can see them, the guide stops and points at the darned thing. Oh no!

No fear here. The Zappos folks are excited about their numbers.

Zappos Call Statistics
Be sure to click on the photo to see the full sized version.

I think that putting a chart like this on the wall sends several messages:

  1. We're doing important stuff
  2. Improve these numbers and our business will improve
  3. Everyone is an active participants in the success of the business
  4. We won't be embarrassed if the numbers aren't perfect (check out the photo -- they answered phones faster last year)
  5. We're not so serious that we have to write "December" in one color

Put your numbers on the wall, tape some flowers on the top, and start building your business. Be sure to take the Zappos Insights tour next time you're in Las Vegas too. It shocked me how fun and inspiring it was!