Category Archives: Review

Comfast CF-2410P Review

I needed decent directed antennas for my TP Link WDR3600. I decided to try the Comfast CF-2410P, despite its cheap price.

I can not find that it has any advantages to the standard antennas that came with the router. I would rather say it is crap.

Buying cheap Arduino clones

I got curious about Arduino a little while ago and bought the official Arduino Starter Kit. I can really recommend it! It is very nicely put together and the project book really helps to get you started in no time. Even if you dont care about the projects themselves, they are a great way to learn how to use the Arduino.

After a few projects from the Starter Kit I started building my own project, which took me to a point where I felt I wanted at least one more Arduino.

I also felt that perhaps the UNO is not the right model for a more permanent build. After not so little research I decided the Arduino Nano is quite perfect.

Well, buying an Arduino (UNO, Nano, whatever) is not the easiest thing:

  • The arduino.cc vs arduino.org conflict causes some confusion, and has caused some limited availability of original (Italian) boards, it seems.
  • Some models are depricated
  • There are kind of official boards with funny names (Adafruit, RedBoard)
  • There are even more inofficial boards
  • The ATMega328 is not a very powerful chip, and original UNO and Nano are quite pricey

This made me consider a cheap Chinese copy. Those are not illegal in any way, they just come with the usual issues:

  • Delivery time
  • Build quality
  • No (or questionable) contribution back to community
  • Compability
  • Control, ethical, environmental and other aspects

I decided to give it a try and ordered:

I belive those mini-breadboards together with the Nano make a perfect Arduino. The clones I received were just fine. When you look at them and touch them, of course they don’t have the same quality as the original beautiful Italian-made Arduino I got with the Starter Kit. Especially the headers seem to be of lower quality than the orginal (not to talk about the print). Most of the clones use a cheaper and less capable USB-controller (CH340G instead of ATMEGA16U2). For Linux this makes no difference whatsoever, but for Windows you probably need to install drivers.

I think it can be good to have a few cheap clones to build into stuff or play with. At the same time, the official Starter Kit is great and the official board is good as reference so you know the clones do what they should. I would not start with only a cheap clone and no start kit.

Charging Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

The Sony Xperia Z1 Compact can be charged two ways: via Micro USB or via the special magnetic charging connector.

The phone comes with the normal USB cable, that can also be used for synchronization, file transfers and such. But since the phone is water proof the Micro USB connector is hidden behind a little door, and opening and closing this every time charging the phone does not really feel optimal.

The official way to charge via the magnetic connector is to buy the DK32 docking station. It is quite pricey, and quite “light” (the magnet is much stronger than the weight of the thing). Docking/undocking does not really feel like opening/closing a german car door, but otherwise it is nice to have the phone docked and charging. It is quite unclear if this DK32 is compatible with any other very similar Sony Xperia docking stations.

Other options?

I ordered a USB-cable with magnetic connector (but no docking station) from Deal Extreme. Again, quite unclear what models the cable really works with (there are many similar cables, with different phones listed as compatible).

Well, the cable “works”. When attached, it charges the phone just perfectly. Attaching it requires a little bit of a precision move, and when attached it is not very stable against rolling off to the front or the back of the phone. But now that I have learnt how to do it, I prefer it to the old USB cable. I am thinking about building/gluing some type of docking station for it. Note: the +/- connectors are not interchangeable. If I connect it upside-down (the cable from up) the phone restarts, and it is perhaps not entirely healthy for it.

I have the original DK32 at work, so the phone is almost always fully charged when I leave work in the afternoon, and I don’t need to charge it until back at work next day.

Book Review: The Satanic Verses

With the release of Joseph Anton there was some attention around Salman Rushdie – the author who was sentenced to death by Iran for writing The Satanic Verses. Well, I decided it was time to get my own opinion and ordered a paperback The Satanic Verses (hard to find in stores).

I really had no idea what I was about to read – except that fundamental muslims were upset about the work.

It is a thick book. First pages are very… poetic, tricky to read. Then it is a more normal book. The Satanic Verses is funny and entertaining, very well written, and very enjoyable without much knowledge about Islam (perhaps more so, since some muslimes are obviously not entertained). It is full of references and symbols (religious, historical, cultural) and it does not hurt to google and read on wikipedia.

And, with limited knowledge about islam, I do not really understand what the problem is. Mr Rushdie said he expected some people to be a little provoked by it, but he was completely surprised with the death sentence – so am I.

If you like reading, but think The Satanic Verses is not for you, give it a try!

EyeTV vs Terratec Home Cinema

A while ago I bought an EyeTV hybrid for my MacMini. Quite nice device, and especially I liked the (mac) software included. Very nice, particularly the recording, cutting and exporting video features.

Now, the MacMini is all dead since a few weeks ago and I try to replace it with a Windows 7 PC. It works quite well, but Terratec Home Cinema (included with the Hybrid, for Windows userse) is so inferior compared to EyeTV. Especially the Cut! program is unstable, unpolished, and does not support exporting to any other formats than the original MPEG2. Luckily Handbrake does that job very well.

In this case, quality of software makes the difference between a fantastic product for the Mac, and a quite average product for the PC.

Ubuntu 11.04 Beta 1 on Eee 701

I have two Asus EEE PCs, probably the two worst ones they made. I have an EEE1101, which comes with the horrible GMA500.

And I have an EEE701. It was a nice idea, at a nice price, but the actual machine sucks. Keyboard on the brink of unusable and poor battery life. The Celeron 900HMz at 630MHz does not help much. But the worst thing is not the 7-inch 800×480 display – it is the lack of OS/Window Manager that makes good use of it.

Yesterday I came across this review of Ubuntu 11.04 Beta 1 on TheRegister. Can it really be that bad? Can it be something for my EEE701.

Well, I am writing this post on my EEE701 Ubuntu 11.04 right now – that is a good start. Installation went smooth (after I failed to boot the EEE from a 4GB SDHC card).

Most things work out of the box: Wireless network, Video, Webcam, Audio (via headset, not loudspeakers – perhaps my Eee is old and broken), volume buttons and display light buttons. Booting time is about a minute.

I removed a few Items from the Launcher/Dock because with 480 pixels you need to prioritize. I use firefox mostly in full screen mode (F11), and occationally I have to use Alt-F7 to move windows around.

The computer feels a bit slow, but useful. CPU at 630MHz (not overclocked – should maybe look into that). I have 1GB RAM and no swap partition.

Flash videos on YouTube are enjoyable, but not perfect.

Do I hesitate about updating my other computers from Ubuntu 10.10 to 11.04? Absolutely (well, Gnome is still there).

Do I think that Ubuntu 11.04 is the best OS for my EEE701? Yes – I think so.

Would EEE701 + Ubuntu 11.04 impress on anyone? No – I dont think so.

The review in The Register focuses on that Unity is nice, but it does much less than Gnome. Well, for my netbook that is not so bad. And I am used to falling back to the command line a lot anyway.

USB 2.0 PCMCIA card for Mac OS X

My 867MHz PowerBook G4 still works reasonably well, especially after I upgraded the hard drive. The worst thing with it, is that it only has USB 1.1-ports. For external hard drives, iPod syncronization and digital cameras, USB 1.1 is really too slow. Miserable as I am, I ordered a very cheap USB 2.0 PCMCIA card, rumored to work well in Mac OS X. The card model reads: “AKE USB2.0 Cardbus BC168“.

Does it work with Mac OS X (10.5.8)? YES!

I inserted it into my G4. After a few seconds I got a little icon in the menu bar, next to the bluetooth menu. The first menu item says “Unknown Vendor USB Controller”. The card works perfectly, immediately, without any need to install any drivers! PCMCIA cannot provide very much electrical current, so if you need extra power there is a little cable that you connect from one of your USB 1.1 ports to your PCMCIA card (USB memory, digital camera, iPod nano is fine without; 2.5inch external hard drive needs extra power).

How about performance? Well, copying files to and from an external hard drive gives me transfer rates of about 15Mb/s, with no significant CPU load. I like it!

Testing a 25mm Extension Tube

A few weeks ago I tested a Macro Effect filter. The results were not that impressive. I decided to spend some more money on an original Canon EF-25 II Extension Tube (the “II” is critical if you have EF-S lenses).

The Extension Tube is simply a 25 mm long piece of metal pipe, that fits perfectly between your camera and your lens. You can get cheap ones (that doesn’t have electrical connectors) or expensive ones. They have no glass anyway.

Moving the lens away from the camera (sensor) has two effects:

  1. it crops the picture, making objects larger
  2. it changes the shortest possible distance usable for the lens

It is the second effect is the crazy cool one. For my two EF-S lenses, and my fixed 50mm EF lens, this is the effect:

   Lens        Original Range               New Range (roughly)
   18-55 mm     25 cm - infinity             0 cm - 20 cm
   55-250 mm   110 cm - infinity            15 cm - 400 cm
   50 mm        45 cm - infinity            10 cm - 15 cm

So, I can get really close to the object. However, it is now impossible to focus on anything far away. There is of course some math, some science, and some theory about this, but I dont really know much about it.

With the extension tube on, zooming does not really work as expected. Instead, the zoom decides the rough focus distance. So, for the tele lens, at 55 mm I can focus on things roughly 15 cm away. As I zoom in towards 250 mm, the focus distance increases to 4 meters. The size of the object in the lens is somewhat constant, since I move away from the target at the same time as I zoom in more and more. The focus ring can be used to fine-adjust focus, but if the zoom is not fairly correct, you can never get focus. With some luck, auto focus works.

Train revisited
Of course I started photographing the same train as I did with the Macro Effect filter. RAW mode used, picture exported to JPEG with iPhoto.

18-55@44, 2.5 sec (ISO800), ~15 cm from object

As I see it, the picture is much better than what was achieved with the cheap Macro Effect lens. Especially, the picture is sharp not just in the middle. Lets look at a crop:

Crop of text details

As I see it, this crop of the center of the picture is slightly sharper than with the Macro Effect filter.

Finally, something more artistic.

18-55@36, f/9.0, 1.6s, ISO100

Even if this is at 36 mm, I cant get much closer, because the object hits the lens. Not possible to go all the way down to 18 mm.

18-55@53, f/9.0, 5s, ISO100

Would I recommend anyone to pay almost EUR 150 for this thing? Well, it is small, and it turns your 18-55 kit lens into a macro lens. The result is much better than a cheap filter. Perhaps for the 18-55 lens it is better to get the 12 mm extension tube…

For more nice macro photos, try this page.

Testing a Macro-Effect lens filter

Cheap stuff that works is always cool! I ordered a “Macro Effect” lens filter from DealExtreme. What kind of Macro Photography can you do for $8.99?

I decided I wanted to photograph one of my Z-scale (1:220) Märklin steam engines. My objective: to find out what the printing on the side of the train is. When you look at the pictures below, remember that the whole train is about 80mm long.

Equipment:

All pictures are taken with Aperture F=10, ISO 100. Exposure times decided by the camera. RAW format was used but the pictures below are made JPEG-crappy with iPhoto.

Without Macro Effect filter
First are two pictures taken without the Macro Effect lens filter. These pictures are taken at roughly the shortest possible distance, using a suitable focal length.

55-250@163, 2 sec, ~110 cm from object



18-55@45, 2 sec, ~25 cm from object



I decided the pictures to be of roughly the same quality and I made a crop of the second one that shows the center part of the picture in native resolution (one RAW pixel corresponds to one JPEG pixel):

18-55@45, 2s, crop of details



This is the “macro capability” of the standard kit-lens. Not that crappy. However, I cant read those printings on the train. Note that the DB-logotype is 2 mm long, so the letters are really really tiny.

With Macro Effect filter
Now follows four pictures using the Macro Effect lens filter. Note that these pictures are taken from 10-20 cm away from the lens. Focal depth is extremely short (a few millimeters). If possible, it is easier to focus by moving the object rather than moving the focus wheel. Now the pictures:

55-250@250, 2.5 sec



55-250@135, 6 sec



55-250@70, 6 sec



18-55@55, 4 sec



At 250 mm there is no combination of focus and distance to object that creates a sharp picture. At 135mm there is some sharpness in the middle of the picture. At 70mm it does not look so bad and 55mm is sharp almost to the sides. Not however, that the focal depth is just a few millimeters. I decided to make a crop of the text details of the 55mm picture though:

18-55@55, 4 sec, crop of details



Now the characters are clearly readable! Other people can judge the artistic value of this 😉

Conclusions
The $8.99 Macro-Effect 10x lens filter does have some effect. It does amplify your object, giving you better Macro capability. You can use it with a 18-55mm EFS lens. However, with a 55-250mm lens things do not get sharp in most of the range. The macro limit of your camera gets much shorter with the Macro-Effect lens attached. Photographing without a tripod is very hard. Focal depths get close to 0.

For many purposes, a tripod, a good flash, and digital zoom will probably give you a better result than this Macro-Effect lens filter does.

It would be interesting to try a Macro Extension tube as well to see how it compares.