Picture Perfect

This past Father's Day I received a shocking but pleasant surprise – a shiny new Canon SD870IS ELPH point and shoot camera! The shocking part was due to the fact that my wife never buys technology for me, because I am so picky about my gadgets. The pleasant part is because I've been looking to replace our old SD200 that we've had for years. We both loved that camera because of it's small size, ease of use, and fast response time (when you have two fast-moving little ones, it helps to have a camera that can capture an photo right when you press the shutter release). We've also shot hours of video with the SD200, because even though we have a nice Sony camcorder, we never feel like lugging it around with us. The video quality is more than acceptable and it allows us to capture moments we would never have been able to with something larger. The SD200's 3.2 mega-pixel sensor worked fine for the kinds of shots we take.

So enter the SD870IS. The coolest feature about this camera is the “IS” at the end – Image Stabilization. For normal shooting it helps eliminate blur and even works on the large, bright 3” screen. (I was always jealous of other camera's big screens when all I had was the SD200's 2.5” screen). But the stabilization really comes in handy for shooting video. With such a small device, shaking is always a problem on video. The old camera's video always had a lot of shake and could be annoying to watch sometimes, but this new camera shoots nice, steady video that is wonderful to watch! And for photos, the 8 mega-pixel sensor allows us do more with printing and cropping than we could ever do before.

Over the years since the SD200 was introduced, Canon has added tons of cool little features to the software, too numerous to mention here, but several new shooting modes, and auto adjusting the image orientation while reviewing images are a couple of them that I really appreciate. The SD870IS still has some of the same issues as it's older cousin, most notably it's mediocre low light performance But overall, I am excited to have this cool new toy to play with, and I'm no longer lusting over the other cameras I see when we take the kids to Disneyland! Thanks Honey!

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Video Sedation

During one of Woot's last “Woot-Offs”, I picked up a couple of Sansa E250 media players for the kids to watch videos on when we need them to be calm and quite (like during visits to Ikea). They each already have a Sansa Shaker loaded with their favorite songs (Tucker seems very fond of his blue “radio”), but video is a much more effective way to keep them “sedated”. In the past, I used my T-Mobile MDA with several hours of their favorite movies loaded on it to keep them occupied – but they both had to share the screen and I didn't like the idea of them fondling my phone and possibly dropping or otherwise injuring it.

For $30 bucks each during the woot-off, I figured I couldn't go wrong, so I ordered two of them. I quickly discovered that the built-in firmware for these players could only handle video encoded using Apple Quicktime DLLs that I have so far managed to keep off my system. Plus, the compression of the supported format was so bad that I could have only put a few minutes of video in the limited 2Gb of memory the devices contain.

Here's were Rockbox saves the day. Before I pressed the shiny “I Want One” button on Woot, I did a little research and discovered this project and found it supports the players I was about to purchase. I went ahead an placed my order for two, then within hours of their arrival, I had the Rockbox firmware installed on them. I played with the software, tweaking the many settings and options the firmware provides.

Finally it was time to put some videos on the devices. It took a while to figure out the optimal encoding options for these devices, but after playing around for a few hours I arrived at the following settings:

Video Encoding Format MPEG2 (RockBox only supports this for now)
Video Resolution 224x176
Video Bitrate 192 kbps
Video Frame Rate 25 fps
Audio Encoding Format MPEG-1 Layer 2
Audio Samping Rate 44100 Hz (other samping rates break mpeg 2 compatibility)
Audio Bitrate 64 kb/s, Monophonic

Although this results in some serious visual artifacts, this is perfectly fine for the kids to watch (they haven't complained yet!). These settings allow me to cram several hours of video onto the players. The only thing I haven't figured out yet is how long the batteries last during video playback – the longest stretch of time the kids have watched the devices is about 90 minutes during a drive back from Grandma's House.

I figured I should share this little tip in case anyone else needs to administer some “video sedation” of their own while out in the world. As always, any tips and suggestions are always appreciated in the comments.

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Kitchen Mod Update

Sorry I haven't been posting in a while, but once I got started on the kitchen, every free moment after work was devoted to it. I finally finished all the tough stuff last week, all that's left to do is convert a can light in the ceiling to a hanging lamp that Kelly picked out at Ikea (where else?) The granite people came out last week and attached the sub-tops and made templates, but we are still waiting for them to contact us so we can choose the layout. But even with just the sub-tops (read plywood), life with an island in the kitchen is much better. You can see more details on our kitchen project on Kelly's blog at IkeaFans. It isn't up to date with the latest pics yet, but you can get an idea of what I've been up to the last few weeks.

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