Recently in Equipment - tools of the trade Category

My main machine is an early 2008 Mac Pro. It's hard to believe it's four years old already... In any case, the DVD drives fail about once a year due to dust build-up. I replaced the original one with a PATA drive from a donor, but the new drives are all SATA.

Here's how to install a SATA DVD drive in the 2008:

Useful info.

One of my coworkers wanted a simple audio data recorder to do some interviews. Here was my response to her:

Sorry to take a few days to get back to you on the audio recorders. I think you said you wanted a digital audio recorder that you could use to transfer files back to your computer, that eliminates several of the sub-$50 models and so the cheapest ones are all in the $50-100 range and above.

There are a couple of Sony models in this price range, but I find that Sony usually has complicated user interfaces and really bad software, so unless you're a huge Sony fan, I'd generally avoid:

Sony ICD-PX312 $52

I'd instead recommend Olympus. They tend to have simpler interfaces that are easier to use and harder to mess up:

Olympus VN-8100PC $65

There are models that go on up from there, but unless you want to record live audio (concert performances, etc.) then they are overkill.


I was at the CP+ convention last month when Fuji unveiled the X-Pro1 and played with the camera a bit. I have to say that I was very disappointed in its lens work. Basically I found both the auto-focus useless as it hunted far too much, even in a well-lit environment. I was never sure of whether the focus was achieved unless I was in EVF mode, which seemed to defeat the purpose of an optical viewfinder.

In manual focus, the stock Fuji lenses seemed to be very "detached" from the focus ring. I didn't have the confidence that I could snap focus like I could with a Leica M rangefinder.

The worst aspect though of manual focusing was that there was only one manual focusing aid -- the magnified view option. This is good but is now a bit dated.


I decided instead to get a Ricoh GXR base camera and plan to get an M-module very soon. I've already tested this setup and I found that the contrast-highlight manual focus option on the GXR is very fast and accurate -- as accurate as my rangefinding focus. Will report on this setup more as I get more experience with it.



Comparison Reviews

I've been spending the past couple of months in Tokyo. Worried about the radiation, I brought my DRGB-90 russian geiger counter /dosimeter that I had bought a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, the DRGB is a rather old analogue design and the readings at low (natural background radiation) are rather imprecise. I modified it so that it could hook up directly to an application on iOS called Geigerbot that is a sophisticated click-counter. Set up correctly, it can give you precise microsievert per hour readings. It also interfaces with Pachube which allows historical readings. Now Geigerbot can use the microphone on your iPad/iPhone to detect the geiger counter's audible clicks, but it will of course also pick extraneous external noise.

DRGB90 mod 002

I wanted to directly interface my DRGB-90 with my iPhone so I could have more precise readings. Unfortunately, the DRGB doesn't have an external speaker jack or any other outputs. I wrote up an article (that I've since moved the actual hacking instructions to another blog) that talks about how to hack it. For this blog, here's the data coming out of the DRGB-90 + iPhone + Geigerbot.

It shows that radiation levels -- at least in my apartment in Tokyo -- is around 0.15 uSv/hr. This is actually lower by a full BED than background radiation in many places in the United States, which averages 0.23 uSv/hr. I haven't taken the unit mobile yet to see if there are any hotspots, but for now I feel less worried about the situation at least in terms of background radiation. I'm still concerned about food as a set of recent revelations make it clear that government and corporate monitoring has been less than ideal in this regard. Unfortunately, measuring food contamination is extremely difficult and not something a consumer can do herself. For more info, see

I updated my desktop a while ago to 10.7 and tried to fire up Final Cut Pro. I was still running a fairly old version of FCP6 since I hadn't found any good reason to upgrade to FCS 3.0 -- and with the new "unimproved" Final Cut Pro X, decided to stay where I was. Final cut pro x But my FCP wouldn't run. Strange. I decided to try to reinstall it, but the installer wouldn't work. A quick search of the internets revealed:
  • FCP6 and 7 will run under Lion but won't install as the installer is based on PowerPC code.
  • Lion doesn't include Rosetta, the PowerPC emulator
  • You can install Rosetta from a 10.6 install disk
So I scrounged around my archives and found a OSX 10.6 (Snow Leopard Disk) and in the Extras folder was an installer for Rosetta. Ran that and it installed without complaint. Then went to my FCP Studio 2 disk and ran the installer, and it worked! It's installing away just fine. Step by step means to install FCP 2 on OSX 10.7 Lion:
  • Find OSX 10.6 (Snow Leopard disk)
  • Inside the "Optional Installs" folder is an "Optional Installs.mpkg" file. Click on that and select the "Rosetta" installation option
  • Install Rosetta
  • Install FCP 2 (ignoring the warnings)
  • Bask in glory
Phew! I was worried that I would have to shell out more money for the distinctly inferior new Final Cut Pro X -- which wouldn't be able to even read my previous FCP projects!

My home network has two wireless access points operating on two frequencies. My main Airport Express which is operating on 802.11n in the 5 gigahertz spectrum and a Linksys WRT54G (dd-wrt) which is operating on 802.11g/b in 2.4 GHz land.

This allows me to have full-speed on my 'n' devices which can operate in the clear airspace of 5 Ghz while still allowing legacy devices on 2.4 Ghz. I wish I had the latest Airports which had dual tuners, allowing for both at the same time, but this is the cheap way to get the same effect.

Recently, I wanted to check on my WRT54G but forgot its static IP address. It's in bridge mode, which means that it's not serving IP addresses itself and is basically invisible to the network. Good for devices connecting through it, not good if you want to update its settings.

I was struggling with remembering its IP addresses and thought I'd have to basically try all the IPs ( ping when I remembered a UNIX hack:

Karens-Neo-MacBoopPro:~ nakamura$ ping
PING ( 56 data bytes
64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=64 time=0.069 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=255 time=0.957 ms (DUP!)
64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=255 time=1.409 ms (DUP!)
64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=64 time=5.339 ms (DUP!)

I pinged the network broadcast address ( and all the devices on the network responded. The only device in the list I didn't recognize was that was my router!

My mid-2009 MacBook Pro was starting to feel a bit old around the edges but we're on a multi-year replacement cycle at Yale and I wasn't going to get a new one soon. So I instead opted for an SSD drive upgrade/replacement.

I got a new 750 gigabyte (rotating) hard drive and used the MCE Tech OptiBay to mount an Intel 160 gigabyte SSD. So I have around 900 gigabytes of online data and my system and application boots are around 4x faster.

I used "Trim Enabler" to enable TRIM support for my Intel SSD on Mac OSX 10.6.8 (updated 2011.08: and MacOSX 10.7 Lion).


  Capacity:	160.04 GB (160,041,885,696 bytes)
  Model:	INTEL SSDSA2CW160G3                     
  Revision:	4PC10302
  Serial Number:	CVPR11xxxxHF160xxx  
  Native Command Queuing:	Yes
  Queue Depth:	32
  Removable Media:	No
  Detachable Drive:	No
  BSD Name:	disk0
  Medium Type:	Solid State
  TRIM Support:	Yes
  Partition Map Type:	GPT (GUID Partition Table)
  S.M.A.R.T. status:	Verified

Highly recommended for all MBP owners -- if you're willing to give up your optical drive bay!

I was giving a friend some advice on digital recorders and came across a mention of the RedHead windscreen in one of the reviews for the Samson Zoom H1. Judging from the video, it seems to do a pretty amazing and incredible job. The windscreen is available for other digital recorders too and in other colors as well.


Co-blogger Jason recently queried why I had written off using a DSLR as both my still photo camera and video camcorder in fieldwork. My pat answer up to now has been while there are some strong pros, there are some definite cons:


  1. Beautiful video. The sensors are much larger, much better bokeh, brighter lenses.
  2. Interchangeable lenses.
  3. One less device to carry or forget to bring batteries or memory cards.


  1. Audio: Most DSLRs have really atrocious onboard mics, low digitization rates, and no option for external audio (such as XLR jacks or even plug-in-power). They rarely have adequate mic monitoring (onboard displays or live monitoring via headphones) and usually only offer automatic gain, no manual gain option .
  2. Form factor: The SLR form factor is really designed for one form of eye-level shooting and not for live action.
  3. Autofocus: Some DSLRs cannot autofocus while video recording.
  4. Auto-Aperture: Some DSLRs cannot adjust the aperture while video recording, this makes lighting changes in a single clip difficult. Others cannot adjust the aperture in a stepless fashion, causing visible artifacts during adjustments.
  5. Zooming: OK, power zooming is generally evil, but everyone does a slow zoom once in a while, and not having a power zoom is a (major) pain.
  6. Sensor: Because almost all SLRs are single-sensor, you get color mosaicing from the Bayer filter.
  7. Shutter: Most DSLRs use an electronic rolling shutter when shooting video, unlike the mechanical shutters on dedicated video cameras. This can cause strange "jellyroll" effects on tall objects that move quickly across the screen -- or during fast pans.


Audio was one of the killers for me, since I do my own camera and audio. I usually have an external mic or two in interviews, feeding back into my camera. I've done dual sound using a flash recorder, and it isn't ideal. I prefer having a strong onboard sound option.

Interestingly, some DSLRs are now getting external audio options. The Olympus Pen E-PL2 (micro 4/3) has external audio through the SEMA-1 option, it provides for a 3.5mm plug-in-power jack. The higher end of the Lumix series such as the GH2 have 2.5mm audio mic jacks. And the higher end of the Canon EOS series also have 3.5mm audio jacks. Still, no real-time headphone monitoring (I think).

After the jump, I look at some specific cameras from the Canon EOS and Panasonic Lumix (micro 4/3) series. I'm interested in those two as I own older models in those series and can swap lenses.

I have to say, I'm not 100% convinced -- but like many things he has asked about before, Jason has gotten me thinking seriously about this.

I'm beginning a new project on Japanese sexuality next year and I've been thinking of how to shoot it. For my mental illness project, I used the Canon XL-H1. This was ideal for the location and topic where I was working -- larger rural spaces, people who wanted a video camera that was obviously a video camera. This is an HDV format camera, which meant it shot on HDV tape, not flash media.

My next project will be largely urban and I'd like to get a camcorder that I can take into smaller spaces.  I've been testing out the various tiny SDHC based high-def camcorders such as the Canon Vixia series, and I've been impressed with most things (except for the pain of dealing with the AVCHD file format and the limited wide-end of the zoom).  So I think my next project will be entirely shot on flash media.

I'd like to use this space here to think about several options with the following requirements:

  • High definition 1080p
  • Interchangeable lens or at least 30mm equivalent on the wide end of the zoom
  • Small / medium size
  • High-quality onboard audio for times when I can't use boom or lav mics
  • Relatively inexpensive flash media
  • Easily usable file format  (aka not AVCHD)

In my initial survey, here are some options:


Canon XF100 HD   @ $3300
- Dual CF card slots, 50MBPS @ MPEG2, 1080P,  dual XLR, 30.4mm - 304mm zoom

JVC GY-HM100U ProHD @ $2795
- SDHC cards,  35MBPS@ MPEG2, dual XLR, 1080P, 39mm - 390mm zoom


Panasonic AG-HVX200a @ $3595
- Dual P2 cards,
40~100MBPS@ DVCPRO HD, 1080P, 30mm - 490mm zoom



If I put AVCHD back into the picture:

Panasonic AG-HMC150 AVCCAM Camcorder @ $2825
- SDHC cards  24MBPS@ AVCHD (H.264), 1080P, 28mm - 368mm zoom

Panasonic AG-HMC150 AVCCAM Camcorder @ $$1689
- SDHC card,  24MBPS@ AVCHD (H.264), 1080P, 40.8mm - 490mm zoom


Sony HDR-AX2000 AVCHD Camcorder @ $3498
- AVCHD....

Sony HXR-MC50U Ultra Compact Pro AVCHD Camcorder @ $1500
- AVCHD....



Well.... I lamed out and decided to get an iPhone 4 after all.  The iPad is tempting but too expensive and JCR's comments about not using his iPad as much after getting his iPhone4 seemed to resonate with my gut feeling of what I would end up doing with it.   If the iPad had a front-facing video camera for Skype and SD-card support, I'd reconsider but methinks that Steve J. is keeping the video-camera for the iPad 2.0 -- and likely will never get an SD-card or USB jack since Steve likes to keep it proprietary.


I thought seriously about getting an Android-based phone, but in the end lamed out on those too. They don't seem to have any must-have advantages over the iPhone. One thing that would have swayed me is free tethering, but it seems that all of the 'droids that have tethering also have it as an extra option, just like the iPhone. And though you can root them and add a hack to tether, I could also jailbreak and do it on my iPhone if I was that inclined.

So I lamed out and got an iPhone. I drove up to my "nearest" Apple store, which is in West Hartford.  They were clean out of stock (and judging from the inside of the Apple Store, I think Apple is entirely quitting the computer business and selling only iPhones and iPads).

I walked across the mall and went to a Radio Shack. I knew that as the unsexiest store in the Mall, it had the best chance of actually having stock of the iPhone and I was right.

So I'm now the proud (?) owner of an iPhone 4 -- 32 gig.

Thanks everyone for the comments!



The PC extended warrantee company SquareTrade has published some really interesting data on laptop / netbook failure rates, based on their own data from 30,000 of their covered machines. What's interesting to me is the fragility of netbooks. One of my own netbooks (an Asus EEE PC 900) has died, which is a shame since it's one of the most reliable brands.





So I guess I'm not the only one with hard drive problems:

Apple to Replace Bad Hard Drives

Apple, meet Toyota.

The computer company, while not formally issuing a recall, says it will replace for free “a very small percentage” of hard drives that are prone to failure in some MacBook laptops sold from May 2006 to December 2007."

February 19, 2010, 7:35 PM

Canon 7D announced

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canon_eos7d.gifHot off the press: "Canon has today announced the EOS 7D digital SLR. It boasts a new 18MP APS-C CMOS sensor, Dual DIGIC 4 processors, ISO range expandable to 12800, continuous shooting at 8 fps and full HD video recording. It also incorporates a new viewfinder with 1.0x magnification and 100% coverage and a 3 inch LCD with 920k dot resolution."


One of my colleagues asked for a recommendation for a digital video camera for the field. I recommended against getting a Mini-DV or HV camcorder and instead going all digital with a flash (SDHC) based camcorder:

These days, instead of using tape, I recommend going all digital. That way, you can simply dump the video files to your PC and don't have to bother digitizing them. You will need a large hard drive, but a 500 gigabyte pocket hard drive is cheap and fits in your laptop bag easily.

I recommend these models:

  • Canon Vixia HF-10 or HF-100 (this is the one I use)
  • Sanyo Xacti (small, handheld, the microphone isn't as good on this, but size is excellent)

Be sure to get a large SD card -- at least 4 gigabytes. Eight or 16 gigabytes is preferable.


Do you think this was good advice? Please post any suggestions or comments (or questions)!

I swear that at the American Anthropological Meeting, at least one third of the anthropologists that I met had an iPhone. What a bunch of geeks!

jesus.jpgIn case you didn't know, AT&T will often give you discounted / corporate rates on their monthly service charge if you are an employee of some companies. And most larger schools have these negotiated rates for their students, faculty, staff, and other affiliates.

I should've done this when I signed up for my Jesus-phone but I didn't know until a few months later when a colleague told me. I went down to my local AT&T store and showed them my Yale ID card and they input the discount code in the computer.

Two months later, I'm saving about $12 a month on my service. Not a whole lot, but it adds up to $144 a year.

I recently installed CHDK on my Canon A590IS, which allows me to take time lapse photos.

CHDK is a piece of software that provides additional functionality to Canon digital cameras. I have explained it to others as "jailbreaking" my camera, as some have done with their iPhones.

It is admittedly a little complicated to install CHDK onto the camera. The hard part is that you first have to use a hex editor to change the boot sector of the SD card to make it bootable. Once that is done you just copy the CHDK software over to the card, switch it to the locked position, put the card in the camera, and go.

One other caveat is that CHDK works best with FAT16 formatted media, which puts a 2GB limit on the amount of memory that is able to be used. For this reason I bought an extra 2GB card to put the CHDK software on instead of the 4GB card I already had.

Once you have the CHDK loaded there are various scripts that you can run. One script, the Ultra Intervalometer, allows you to specify how many photographs to take at what interval. This is the script I used.

The video you see above is from a set of pictures that were taken from 11:38 p.m. to 12:06 a.m. on New Year's Eve 2008. Make of it what you will. ( ^ _ ^ )

I used the "open image sequence" option in QuickTime Pro to make the video, then uploaded it to my Flickr account (which plays on iPhones).

One of the students in my visual anthro class asked about how to capture an iChat video conversation (both sides). She wanted to tape a conversation with one of her informants. A little googling revealed a neat little application called Conference Recorder:

There are also some neat tips in the article, including the use of SnapZ or Garage Band to record iChat (and perhaps Skype) conversations.

As always, let the other person know that you are recording the conversation -- for ethical and legal reasons.

We talked in my Ethnographic Filmmaking class yesterday about field journals. I'm particular to keeping paper journals (which I scan and PDF) but students had some recommendations for online journaling software:




I should mention that some of my grad students have also experimented with using blogging software set to a privacy mode to blog their fieldnotes.

I also posted an older (but much more extensive) list a while ago:

I was cleaning up my office today when I came across some old Kodak PhotoCDs from the late-paleolithic era (circa 2001). I put them in my Mac Book Pro to see what was on them but was surprised when neither the OSX 10.5 Leopard system (QuickLook or nor Photoshop CS3 could open them.

That's odd, I could've sworn Photoshop could handle PhotoCD .pcd files. A little googling reveals that Adobe abandoned that feature when they ported CS3 over to Intel and never bothered to carry the functionality over. I guess they decided Kodak and PhotoCD were good and dead.

Hmm... well, there's always GraphicConverter, right? It's the one application that can read practically everything. I launched it up and it read and converted the files from .pcd to .jpg just fine -- except for the 4 Base and 16 Base sizes. The Base size (512 x 768) displayed correctly but 4 Base and 16 Base came out indecipherably.

It looked like a bug in GraphicConverter, so I dashed off a bug report to them. I then had a couple of options according to the Google:

  • Run Photoshop CS3 in Rosetta mode and use the old Kodak PhotoCD plugin
  • Get Irfanview for the PC and do the conversion in that program, which just happened to have a very good batch function

Since I had VMWare Fusion running anyway, I downloaded Irfanview, installed the PhotoCD plugin, and ran the batch conversion. All done, all finished and my photos from a bygone era are now safely re-digitized as JPEGs.

The moral of the story is -- archival file formats aren't. Be safe and secure, save your files in something standard like JPEG* that isn't going to go anywhere as it isn't tied to one vendor.

* We'll want to revisit this in 10 years and see if JPEG is still around, but I'm pretty sure they'll still be JPEG importers even in 2018. I'm not so sure about JPEG2000, PNG, and Adobe DNG though!

Equipment: Random stuff

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Making a camping stove from used Pepsi-Cola or Mountain Dew cans.

Jason Romero sends me a link to a great article by Gary Voth about ditching your SLR's consumer zoom lens for a classic 50mm prime lens:

If you are like most photographers just starting out with a new 35mm SLR, chances are it came with one of those ubiquitous 28-80mm (or similar) "consumer" zooms. In the last 15 years these inexpensive lenses have all but replaced the traditional 50mm prime lens as the starter optic for 35mm photographers. The 50mm lens, once the mainstay of 35mm photography, has been all but forgotten by today's photographers. [more]

I agree but I personally prefer a wider 35mm lens (such as my handy Summicron 35mm for the Leica M system) to the 50mm that Gary recommends. I find a 50mm is just a bit too "long" and while it's good for capturing intimate portraits, it makes it harder to understand the context in which the photograph exists. A 35mm also forces you to get that much closer which is always a good thing.

ZoomH4Controls.jpgI've been recording some Ainu music and dance performances on the side. I needed a second mic unit, so I bought the Samson Zoom H4 to complement my current Edirol R-09. I was waiting for the H2, but its ship date seems to have been pushed back to late August. The H4 was ¥27620 or approximately $230 by mail order.

Here are my preliminary thoughts on the Zoom H4:

Size: The unit is much bigger than I thought, the H4 seems almost twice the size of the R-09. It seems needlessly large, as though they could have reduced it to half the length if they wanted to.

External Mics: The H4 seems to have excellent sound recording when using an external XLR mic such as my Sennheiser ME64. The preamps are very quiet. The H4 supplies true +48V phantom power (+24V selectable) to the mic. One thing that seems odd is that I haven't found how to make the unit record in mono if there is only one mic attached.

Internal mics: Preliminary tests suggest that the internal X-Y configuration condensers are quite sensitive and separation is quite good. However, the internal pre-amps have a considerably higher noise floor compared to my Sennheiser ME64 condenser mic when plugged into the external XLR jack of the H4. Also, I'm very surprised that the internal mics on the H4 don't have any type of shock mounting. This means that any button press or even the faint sound of your hand sliding on the unit body gets transmitted to the mics. I would have liked to have seen the internal mics at least a little more isolated from the case.

Recording Mode Selection: I like the easy one-button selection and display of the current recording type (MP3 / WAV), bitrate, and bit depth. I switch between using MP3 compressed formats and uncompressed WAV files depending on what I'm recording. This requires going through a menu structure on the R-09 but only one-click on the H4.

Levels / Attenuation: You can't change the sound levels / attenuation without going first to the input menu, selecting levels, and then clicking through a couple more items. All of these button clicks are transmitted to the internal mics and to your recording. I would've preferred a simple one-button level control as on the R-09.

Lack of peak meter: The R-09 has a separate peak LED that lights when the recording levels are too high and are clipping. While the H4 has level meters, they aren't always visible and it's not easy to tell when it is clipping.

Batteries: Battery life is about 4 hours with two alkaline AAs. The H4 does not officially support NiCad/NiMH rechargeable batteries. Exacerbating the lack of support for rechargeables, it does not have a battery level meter, so you can't tell if your batteries are good or half-finished. Also, the H4 can't turn itself off if you leave it on by mistake. The R-09 supports NiMH and alkalin, has a battery meter, and can turn itself off when unusued.

Accessories: The Zoom comes with a tripod adapter, wind shield, and thin case. The Edirol doesn't come with any of these. Unfortunately, the Zoom's tripod adapter has no shock mounting and since the internal mics are also not shock mounted, any vibration coming through the tripod mount will show up in the recording.

Nakamura-Kashgar.jpgThis is a follow up to my earlier posting about various water purification methods in the field. Please note that everyone has their own particular field water purification needs and one-size does not fit all.

In my case, I occasionally travel through urban and semi-rural areas in East and Southeast Asia, and not always the most developed areas. I stay at hotels and hostels and there is usually running water although it may be suspect. I eat at street-side restaurants that may not be that hygienic. The food is usually ok because it's been cooked but the water/lukewarm tea that gets served is suspect.

So my water needs are to to easily purify tap and street bought water (clean but maybe virus or parasite laden). As noted in my previous post, the obvious and best solution for this is UV-C water purification. Iodine / chlorinated tablets leave a bad taste and take too long and water filters are a pain to use.

ArsTechnica has a fantastic overview of the current crop of high-end pigment-based inkjet photo printers:

My Epson 1280 is still soldiering on, but when I end up replacing it, I think I'll get a Canon. I'm sick of Epson's policy of suing every single third-party ink manufacturer and Canon's ink tanks are larger and more efficient.

Roland has released a minor firmware update for its Edirol R-09 digital audio recorder: (click on "Downloads)

The new features are:

  • Repair Files (fixes corrupted files)
  • Max recording size (allows you to limit the max file size of a recording)
  • Peak hold (peak audio level is held for a short while to make it easier to detect peak audio levels)
  • Rec/Peak LED energy saving (turn off these LEDs to save batteries)

See my other notes on the Edirol.

iFixitIBook.jpgI recently had to change out the hard drive on my partner's iBook G4. It's a tremendously difficult procedure with (what seemed like) over a hundred screws that need to get removed in the proper order. iFixit has a great guide series for disassembling and reassembling your Macs and iPods, including a very useful screw reminder sheet that I used to cellotape all the screws to in the order that I removed them:

I put the old drive in a portable USB enclosure and used SuperDuper! to clone the old drive to the new one. Everything worked spankingly and my partner now has a 100 gb drive to put her huge iPhoto database on! And an external 60 gb USB drive for backups.

You'll need an assortment of teeny Phillips screwdrivers (including a Torx, although I used a hex driver) and a "spudger" or a little lever tool that helps you crack the iBook case. iFixit will sell you one, I used one that I had from my camera repair toolkit. A small set of tweezers was also great for picking up small parts. My screwdrivers are magnetized, which also helps with the small screws.

p.s. I wish Apple made the iBook easier to maintain! You shouldn't have to take out 100+ screws just to change out the hard drive!

Zoom-h2.jpgSamson now has a detailed page for their new Zoom H2 flash recorder:

It truly looks like a winner all around: SD card slot (4 gigabyte compatible), 3 capsule mics, date/time stamp function, works as a USB mic when connected to your computer, easy to use, small, light, cheap.

It even records 5.1 surround sound in 4 channels in real time! Perfect for recording wild sound. I can't wait to get my hands on one for this summer.

MS Mouse 8000.jpgI bought the Microsoft Wireless Notebook Presenter Mouse 8000 the other day. I'm quite fond of Microsoft input devices, I have their USB keyboard / mouse combination at work and at home. I bought the Presenter 8000 because I'm giving a lot of talks and I thought a little presenter mouse would be good. The 8000 operates normally as a 4 button scroll-tilt mouse, but then it also has presenter buttons on the underside.

It's a bluetooth mouse so I thought I would be able to just use my internal bluetooth drivers on my Mac PowerBook G4. Unfortunately while most of Microsoft's mice are totally Mac-compliant, the 8000 doesn't properly register itself as a Bluetooth mouse and you need to hack it somewhat to get the Mac to recognize it. I found the solution on Mac Rumors: in a posting by viper0440 (scroll midway down).

What The Duck (by Aaron Johnson) is my favorite online web comic. Today's strip expresses my feeling about equipment perfectly!


Zoom-h2.jpgFollowing on the heels of the Zoom H4 (which apart from not having a time/date stamp would be perfect for me), Samson has announced the Zoom H2 at NAMM 2007. Now this looks perfect except for the lack of XLR inputs! But it does have a time/date stamp. The specs are from the Zoom website:

  • One point stereo microphone design
  • Realize Mid/Side (MS) Stereo technique by using 3 mic capsules configuration and digital signal processing
  • Switchable pickup angle between left and right channel, choose 90° for single voice or instrument, or 120° for many voices and instruments, arranged across the stage
  • Also Switchable cardioid pattern as front, rear and omni direction
  • Finally record 360° sound as 2ch data or 4ch data simultaneously
  • Built-in USB interface with audio interface function, usable as a USB mic
  • WAV 96kHz/48kHz/44.1kHz and MP3 up to 320kbps VBR data format
  • EXT MIC IN can connect general plug-in-power stereo mic (new to the H4)
  • Time stamp function (new to the H4)

You can faintly see the SD logo on the prototype photo listed, so I'm assuming it's a SD-based device.

The best thing was the price: $199!!!!!!! It should come out in several months, not a moment too soon in my opinion.

One of the people on DV-L posted a question about what to do when shooting in the very cold. These are my notes based on my experience in Minnesota and Hokkaido, Japan:

There are two issues involved: cold temperature and condensation. Cameras can handle the cold fairly well as long as they get sufficient battery power, what they can't handle is condensation which will get on the lens, muck up the tape heads, film, or media.

In Minnesota, I found that acclimating the camera to the external temperature was better than trying to keep it warm. If I stuck the camera inside my jacket, it would get condensation from the moisture near my body.

As long as you have the camera on and running, the internal electronics will keep it warm. I'd use an extra large size battery because the capacity will go down when it's cold. Also, keep the spare battery near your body where it's warm -- the high humidity won't bother it as much as the camera lens.

Before you go inside after being outside for while, stick your camera in a ziplock bag or even a plain plastic bag. Tie it shut. And then bring the camera in. That will prevent condensation from building on the camera because of the temperature differential.

If you're really worried, you can get an underwater case for your camera and use that -- it'll protect against bumps, shocks, and humidity changes. But remember to always acclimate the camera to the current temperature before opening the case -- or you'll be back to square one!


The long-awaited 6x wide-angle high-def lens arrived for my XL-H1. The new Canon HD Video Lens 6x XL 3.4-20.4mm L has a 35mm equivalent perspective of 24.5 to 147mm, making it ideal for indoor videography, especially in cramped Japanese houses! There's a manual iris control ring, although the focus and zoom are still servo controlled.

First impressions: HOLY SMOKE THIS IS A BIG SUCKER. It's considerably larger and heavier than the standard 20x lens. The lens hood itself is humongous, almost a matte box in itself. It also makes the XL-H1 even more front-heavy than it currently is, so you'll need some sort of brace unless you have forearms of steel. Also, I didn't notice until it arrived but the 6x zoom does not have Image Stabilization in it. You don't really need it for wide angle work, but it would've been nice on the longer end.

The XL-H1 needs to be flashed up to version in order to support the new iris ring (I was very confused at first since I ignored the enclosed SD card in my haste to play with the lens). The flash card is provided and after you've flashed it, you have a nice 16mb card to store your presets. I haven't learned if there are any other new features in the software except the iris support.

The price for the 6x wide is set at MSRP $3000 and most retailers have it at $2700, but I bought it through the Canon educational program at about $2300.

Once I have some test footage shot, I'll post them.

hello karen

i love your website and greatly appreciate the time and effort you've put into it. what a wonderful gift to others.

i was reading about the canon p rangefinder recently and became confused about whether i should store my rangefinders (i have 2 canons, several petri's and others), with their shutters cocked. also, what about my mamiya tlr lenses; should their shutters be cocked while stored?

thanks so much for your help.


We had an Ethnography and Social Theory colloquium today on the topic of organizational software for the field. Several graduate students and one of the senior faculty presented. Here are my very rough notes.

Allison Alexy's (Mac-based) suggestions for organizing your life / fieldnotes:

Professor William Kelly's (Windows) suggestions:

  • Biblioscape -- bibliographic database
  • Window's Explorer Plus -- file management
  • WhizFolders -- note taking and fieldnote database
  • Dragon Naturally Speaking -- speech recognition / transcription software, great for taking reading-notes, transcribing dictated fieldnotes, etc.

Gavin Whitelaw's field tips and solutions:

  • tupperware in the field -- for organizing/carrying gadgets (esp. post-9/11)
  • Mini-mini-tripod -- esp. for taping shows off streaming sites
  • Using your digital camera as a portable scanner / portable photocopier, taking photos of texts etc.
  • Quick-release for digital camera on tripod
  • Two small digital cameras -- one to work, and one as a backup; with large LCD preview/review screen (to show informants photos or to review on the train, etc.)
  • Portable USB or Firewire back-up drive -- to backup fieldnotes in the field, every night (alternately, use your iPod)
  • iPhoto / Portfolio / Lightroom, or other photo management software -- be sure to tag all your photos, but try to keep the number of keywords to a minimum, less than 30 if possible
  • Using digital camera as another form of fieldnotes -- take photos of everything and everything
  • TypePad -- personal and public blogging, personal/private blog as an easy way to clip articles, tag information, etc.
  • Take screenshots / print to PDF of any website you've seen and want to keep (since websites change constantly)

Other topics:

  • Cpen 20 - pen scanner, to scan documents on the fly
  • Solar power / AC-inverters for places without power
  • Copywrite note taking software
  • WordPress, Joomla, or MediaWiki -- content management systems -- blogging software that can be reused as fieldnote management
  • Zotero -- firefox extension that almost works like a bibliographic reference

My own suggestions:

  • Canon LIDE scanner -- small, lightweight scanner, easily bookbaggable
  • Sharp Zaurus -- small microportable computer, can easily get recharged

Feel free to post other suggestions as well!

samson_h4.jpgGizmodo blogs about the new Samson Zoom H-4 field recorder, which seems extremely promising. At only $300, it is about $100 less expensive than either the Edirol R-09 (which is what I have) or the Microtrack 24/96 (which is very popular). The interface for the Samson looks absolutely fantastic and it has two XLR balanced inputs, which none of its competitors have.

The mike placement of the Samson is a spitting image of the Sony PCM-D1, which costs about $2000. The X-Y configuration is designed to give you a better sound field by reducing the possibility of the stereo mics being out of phase with each other.

Samson's product home page is here and they also have a copy of the manual online, which gives some of its specs. After the jump is a comparison of the Samson H4 against the Edirol R-09. The main defect that I can see is the lack of a time/date stamp on the files. This makes it much harder to use as a field recorder -- or as the audio component of a dual-system video recorder.

I'm thinking of picking one up as it seems very promising. No one has it in stock yet though. There are also only a few reviews online, but check the video review on

Canon USA and Canon Japan have announced that there is a new firmware upgrade for the Canon XL-H1 camcorder. Version corrects issues with time-code synchronization as well as reducing the granularity of the manual iris control to 1/8 stop steps.

The firmware is available by either bringing the camcorder to a Canon center or by phoning them and asking them to send you the update on an SD card for free. It is not available by download. I phoned them and they are sending the new firmware by Fedex 2nd day. I'll post again when I've updated my unit.

p.s. My camcorder, which is one of the first 100 made, was at version I haven't been able to find out what the minor fixes between and (the last public version) have been.

For more info:

For more info about the upgrade from Canon Japan:

Canon HD Video Lens 6x Zoom XL 3.4-20.4mm L

Canon has also announced a 6x wide-angle high-def lens for the XL-H1. The new Canon HD Video Lens 6x XL 3.4-20.4mm L has a 35mm equivalent perspective of 24.5 to 147mm, making it ideal for indoor videography. There's a manual iris control ring, which makes many people happy. Unfortunately, focus and zoom are still servo controlled which makes me unhappy. I had to dig around to find the maximum aperture, but it looks like it'll be f/1.6 to f/2.6.

The price is quite reasonable at a MSRP of $3000. When it comes out in November, I want one. This is the lens that should have come with the camera, in my opinion.

For more info:

Equipment: Cheap lav mikes

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I mentioned in Visual Anthropology class that a cheap lavalier (clip-on) mike is ideal for doing both audio and video interviews. The cheapest that I found that should be sufficient for the purposes of the class is the Sony ECM-T6 for $12.95:

Sony ECM-T6 - Omni-Directional Lavalier Condenser Microphone - $12.95 (B&H)

The next level up is the Sony ECM-C115 for $39.95

Sony ECM-C115 Omnidirectional Lavalier Microphone - $39.95 (B&H)

Both of these have their own on-board power-supply (CR-2025 batteries) so they work with camcorders, audio recorders, and laptops that provide power (aka Plug In Power) as well as ones that don't. If you're going to use your laptop for recording, chances are it doesn't have Plug-in-Power, so you need a mike that is self-powered.

I was preparing a budget to get some student DV camcorders for my department. My requirements were that they had to have a microphone-in as a minimum. The three I came up with were:

El Cheapo: Canon ZR-500 == $250

Middle-range: Panasonic PV-GS150 == $399

High-range: Canon GL-2 = $2200

A few years ago, I would have gotten GL2s because they're more rugged than any consumer camcorder. But I have the feeling that the field is changing quickly and that in two years (the estimated lifetime of a cheap sub-$500 consumer camcorder), we'll either be switched entirely to tapeless or HD format. So the GL2 can't amortize itself within its lifetime.

I just finished printing out 50 of my disability-protest photographs for a small show that I'm opening at the main Yale library. More on the show later. I used my Epson Stylus Pro 1280 printer. It's an older model -- but still on the Epson books, as it's very popular among photographers for its pigmentdye-based inks.

I usually print on Matte Paper Heavyweight. I've tried a variety of different papers types and styles and have always returned to the matte paper. It reminds me of the old fiber papers when I used to use the darkroom. The blacks are deep and luscious and it especially gives my film-based photography the softer look that I like.

While waiting for my printer to print, I was struck by two sentiments. One is the ease of color photography now that we have digital printers. I had always worked in a darkroom, but never with color because of the steep learning curve and expensive equipment necessary. Photography has also become much more affordable. The cost of printing out 50 photographs came out to around $75 -- the new ink cartridges just barely made it through the batch -- or around $1.50 per 8x10 photograph.

Say you come up with a truly insane photo lighting concept -- mount a small photographic umbrella to a hard-hat helmet along with a portable flash unit and presto! You have instant portable bounced flash:

Is it nutty enough to be patentable? Unfortunately, there's prior art --- from 1932! See:

Frequent readers know that I've been working on a ethnodocumentary film about disabilities in Japan. I spent three weeks over winter shooting and I'm going back again next week to shoot some more. I've already gotten a rough cut of one film (on mental illness) done, which I've been screening to a limited audience.

I shot the footage using two cameras, the Canon XL-H1 and the Sony HDR-HC1. Both are HDV or high-definition DV camcorders, shooting in 1080i. The images from both of them are simply stellar. The Canon has a much better lens, better sensor, better on-board sound, XLR jacks, etc. but the Sony can be taken to places where the shoulder-mounted larger camera is too indiscreet.

I'll be taking the same rig back to Japan. Here is my modified equipment list, you can compare to what I brought last time to see that very little has changed.

I've blogged before about my problem with my PowerBook's Toshiba hard drive. It started the click-of-death and died without giving me a chance to back it up. I ended up managing to recover the data before. For more info, see my earlier blog entry:

Since that incident, I've become more aware of the need to have a live backup. I'm so dependent on my laptop that a week without a computer just doesn't work. All of my lectures are on the laptop, my publications, etc. etc. I simply can't work without it.

I've now been taken to using SuperDuper! to clone my laptop drive occasionally to an external drive. It takes about 30 minutes, but it yields a bootable backup drive. I first used the program when my PowerBook started freezing up and I had to send it in (bad lower memory slot). I cloned the drive and then realized that having a bootable clone was a Very Good Thing. So I've kept at this, cloning/backing up every week or so.

Now cloning won't help you restore data that you accidentally deleted a month or two ago (unlike an incremental backup), but that's rarely a problem for me.

In my continuing series on camping and biking equipment, here is a link to making your own backpacking gear (tents, packs, stoves, cookware, etc.).

Need to rent camera equipment (bodies, lenses, lights, etc.) while in the field in Japan? Many pros recommend National Photo. MapCamera has also started up their own rental side-business. Have any recommendations of your own?

I was checking around Japanese camera web store pages (such as MapCamera) and it seems the street price of the Epson R-D1 has dropped to around ¥179,000 ($1656) in anticipation of the R-D1s which is a minor upgrade and which will retail around ¥250,000 ($2400; see

I strongly feel that sub-$2000 is the price level that Epson always should have always sold this 6-megapixel rangefinder for. See my article on the R-D1/D1s for more info.

There are apparently no plans to market the R-D1s in the United States and prices for the R-D1 are still hovering around $3000 (B+H for example).

I'm off this summer for 6 weeks of trekking across the Silk Road in China. I think it'll be an experience of a lifetime -- and an opportunity to take some great photographs. But that's not what I want to blog about today. Today's topic is: Purity of Essence .... errr... water (in a Strangelovian sense)

That is, in the nether reaches of the world, you're not always guaranteed to have fresh water. Even in Beijing and Shanghai, you're warned not to use the water from the hotel taps for drinking -- instead, boiled water in thermoses or spring water in sealed PET bottles is provided.

When I went to my travel doctor for the usual pre-travel battery of injections (HPA, HPB, DtP, tentanus, and influenza), he also recommended that I think about purity of water as well, since Western China is still developing. The main fears that I have about water are:

  • Viruses: Hepatitis (even with vaccination, it's best to avoid exposure)
  • Parasites: cryptosporadia and other protozoa, etc.
  • Bacteria of all sorts
  • Industrial pollutants: pesticides, heavy metals

When hiking in the American backcountry, I've usually relied on iodine tablets such as Potable Aqua or my little MSR filter. But my MSR filter (which didn't work against viruses such as Hepatitis) was lost in the Black Hole of Moving and Iodine doesn't work against Cryptosporadia. My doctor recommended chlorine dioxide tablets, but I noticed that it would take 4 hours of treatment before they killed all the little buggers.

Being a gadget-girl, I couldn't fail to notice the latest high-tech weapons race against ailments of the stomach and liver. (more after the jump)

I'm a sucker for LED lights. I'll have to post a review of my little 3 watt and 5 watt collection sometime. But in the meantime, here are some geeky posts:

Equipment - tools of the trade: May 2012: Monthly Archives

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