Mar 3, 2017

Commodity lenses for mobile phones

I have a rather nice, if old, Samsung camera. It weighs a kilo and has a long adjustable lense that cannot be changed. It takes quite ok photos, though the macro is hardly macro at all. I don't like to carry the camera along on trips and hikes etc. so lately I've either borrowed my teen's small but excellent Nicon or made do with the iPhone camera.

Some time ago I learned about these extra lenses you can get for your cellphone camera. I even tried a few, that my co-worker had bought and brought to the office to show them to us. A few weeks ago I finally decided, on a whim as usual, to order some lenses from Amazon. I got a 12X Optical Phone Camera Lens with Tripod and a CamKix Universal 3 in 1 Camera Lens Kit. Yes, I got them separately, because at first I only was going to buy the zoom lense, and only later decided on the lense kit.

The main things I have come to understand about the lenses are

  • the macro lense rocks
  • the 12x zoom lense is no good without the tripod or with a target that moves even a hair
  • daylight is a must
  • they will never replace the mentioned Samsung/Nicon cameras, because setting them on the phone camera is not exactly easy to do on the fly
This said, I'm not sorry I bought them, especially the macro lense and the 12x zoom, which I believe will prove to be excellent for certain types of photoshoots. The picture quality is rather good for a phone camera + small lense combo. Yet, on a hike or trip, I fear I will still be carrying a separate camera.

In the case of cameras and lenses, I guess pictures tell the story better than a thousand words.

12x zoom lense. Littlest Pet Shop photoshoot. Photoshopped ever so slightly: simply adjusted the levels and curves a bit (winter photography...).

12x zoom lense. Littlest Pet Shop photoshoot. Photoshopped ever so slightly: simply adjusted the levels and curves a bit. Taken without the tripod, actually.

12x zoom lense. Taken with tripod, slightly moving objects.

Macro lense. Thyme leaf (width approx. 5mm). Daylight, but taken inside the house.

Wide angle lense (top) vs. phone cam without any extra lense (bottom). Poor daylight inside the house, levels and curves adjusted slightly in Photoshop.

Fish eye lense. Don't really know what to do with that one...

Sep 8, 2016

AirPlay on PC

My (slight) struggles with my unholy alliance of iPhone SE and a Win10 laptop continue. This time my issue was AirPlay for Windows. Tomorrow I demo Nintex Mobile App at a customer and, well, since it is a mobile app, it would be quite essential to be able to show my phone screen to them. Since you can hardly have a meeting room full of people all gather around you to gape at the small phone screen, I started looking for the best way to mirror my phone on the laptop screen.

Now AirPlay is simple enough (*cough* not *cough*) when you are in an Apple device wonderland, like you airplay to a MacBook or AppleTV etc. And really it is usually quite straightforward, unless you try to do things like control the AppleTV vie AirPlay etc. But PC? You need an app, of course.

Simple googling reveals that there are plenty of Win apps for this purpose available. Starting with the free and simple LonelyScreen, ending in slightly costly (in my opinion, for my random needs) apps like the Mirroring360 and the Apowersoft Phone Manager, which I tried and found a bit too complicated to my taste. It said something about updating iTunes and connecting the phone with a cable etc. and I lost interest.

Tech iOS World ranks the LonelyScreen best of the PC mirroring apps. From my short experience and trial and error of all of two apps, I'd say I agree. Simple enough, strictly to the point, easy to use, no extra hokum it most definitely seemed to suit my purposes the best. My only problem was that my phone would not show the AirPlay option no matter what I tried.

My phone and laptop were on the same network.
I rebooted my phone AND my laptop.
My phone IS up to date software-wize.
I allowed LonelyScreen access through the firewall. 
I even disconnected the Direct Access (well, actually, the disconnect doesn't work for me, so I stopped the whole service, but anyhow...).

I was getting desperate. How can stuffs just always be so darned difficult?! Finally, as my last straw, I turned on the personal hotspot on my phone and connected my Windows to the Internet using the hotspot. And - TA-DAA! - AirPlay appeared on my phone!

My conclusion? LonelyScreen works like a train's toilet (A Finnish idiom that I just chose to use here, don't ask) and is exactly as good and simple as expected. However, I believe our home network is just too complicated what with all of our own firewalls etc. in between everything. That's what you get in a geeky household. Anyway, I'm actually really glad it works with this hotspot, since that is the way I most probably will be using it tomorrow at the customer's.

Aug 22, 2016

Quick time frustration

They say business is dirty. They say Microsoft doesn't play nice with other kids. They say Apple is such a charming son-in-law and practically a saint. They say with Apple, things just work. Oh yeah.

Last spring I did some careful consideration about my phone options. As I then wrote, I ended up getting my very first iPhone and up until this moment, this morning, I have not regretted. Right now, however, I couldn't be much angrier at a faceless corporation than I am at Apple.

Apple is notorious for going it's own way - as is Microsoft, but when MS does it, it's called nasty behavior and when Apple does it, it's called ingenious pioneerism - and right now, today, my unholy matrimony of an iPhone and a Win10 PC is seriously frustrating me.

One word: mov.

I mean, seriously! Why can't Apple devices record videos in mp4? Or at least provide a safe software for converting them so that I can actually use the videos, e.g. edit and combine in Camtasia Studio etc?

First, Camtasia informed me that Quicktime is required in order to use .mov files. After a lengthy search, I finally found the Quicktime download for Win10 and regardless of multiple posts about how it doesn't install on Win10, it actually did. I was able to import the .mov files to Camtasia now, but did they work? Noo-o-oo! The application crashed after fruitlessly trying to play one of the three videos and won't even launch anymore.

I decided to resort to money, but apparently my money is not good enough for Apple. Futilely I searched and searched the interwebs and clicked the Buy Quicktime Pro in the Quicktime and whatnot but could not find a place to buy me a registration code. Finally I stumbled to a page where someone had asked this very question and received the frustrating answer: no can do, it is discontinued (for Windows).

Really? Really, now?! What are my options here now? Upload unedited videos only, straight to Youtube? Take my chances with a free converter (they scare me because most of them are adware at best and malware at normal)? Forget about videos?

I have always likes still photos better anyway. Sometimes, however, videos would be the way to go, but apparently I'm back to the stoneages with my combo of an iPhone and Win10. Thanks, Apple.

Apr 25, 2016

iPhone SE and iOs9

Alas, so came the day that I the Windows girl gave in and got an iPhone. My Lumia 820 - old enough to have the Nokia logo! - was starting to be a rather ancient phone with all sorts of data connection issues constantly. I was long hoping to get a Lumia 950, but when people were telling me how it rebooted itself at least once a day and whatnot, I slowly but surely turned my attention to iPhones. With a sigh.

Today I got a brand new Rose Gold (oh yes, the color is of great significance!) iPhone SE 64GB. Naturally I have been fiddling with it ever since. It is nice and shiny and I like it very much - as my readers know, I'm not a total stranger to iOs, having had the iPad2 for many years already (many enough, that IT is starting to feel ancient and outdated, like, heavily) - but there are some buts. Always.

First of, let it be stated that I still like the WinPhone GUI better. What can I say? I just think it's nicer than the i or Android.

That said, there are things that I absolutely love about my new phone! For one, the camera. Way better than the one in my old Lumia (so ok, the new Lumias have good cameras too). I like that there actually are the apps available, you know. I absolutely love the fingerprint unlock. And, well, new is always new :)

I did have some déjà vu experiences today where it comes to the aggravating iOs issues too. Mainly, photo syncing. iCloud almost works. It almost uploads photos (requires wifi, which is stupid in a country like Finland where phone data is not restricted but e.g. our home internet connection is way slower than my 4g). It almost syncs the photos to the Windows iCloud app. At least it did for the first half an hour. You see where this is going?

I cleaned my Dropbox folders from photos that were just lingering there, old photos from years ago, all of which I already have on my hard drive, and turned on camera uploads to Dropbox. Works. With cellular data too (though not necessarily immediately like the OneDrive photosync... meh...)

One thing I was kinda surprised about is the lack of the 3D touch on the SE. My husband has an iPhone 6s and he had talked about this feature. Not that I actually necessarily was missing it, but I would have expected to have it on this newer (hardware-wize similar) phone.

All in all, so far iPhone SE is getting 4,5 stars from me. I like the light (116g) compact size (even though the screen is smaller than what I was used to with the Lumia 820); there's really nothing not to like. Oh, except that I had to reboot it two or three times today when AppStore wasn't able to download apps. Hmm.

P.S. Since I have a track record of breaking the screens of my phones, I immediately went to the the local Apple Store and bought a protective clear silicone case and glass screen protector.

Nov 11, 2015

Mirror mirror in the phone...

I was driving this morning in the rush hour traffic with my youngest daughter, when she dug her mascara out of her pocket and exclaimed: "I almost forgot! I had time for only one eye at home, need to swipe some mascara on the other one too." Then she opened the mirror on the window shade, but immediately dismissed it as inconvenient and started to fiddle with her phone.

"Do you have a mirror app there?" I asked her, halfway joking. "Duh! Camera!" was the answer, like only teens can, immediately making me feel stupid and old. "Um, righ, yeah. How stupid of me."

Just out of boredom, sitting there in the non-moving traffic, I took out my Lumia, opened the app store and typed in "mirror". To my astonishment there actually was a loooong list of mirror apps! I mean, I had already laughed at myself for forgetting that the front camera was a (im)perfect mirror indeed, but apparently a whole lot of app makers had had the same vanity thought of having a mirror app in the phone.

Just out of curiosity I installed the first one on the list, a free mirror app, and tried it. So I saw my face on the screen, the app using the front camera I assume (what would the option be anyway? a reflecting blank screen?). So now I have a mirror app in my Lumia. Never has my reflection been as grainy as it is in this mirror ;) The Lumia820 front camera is pretty sucky.

Nov 4, 2015

Windows 10

Some time ago, after having used Windows 10 for a couple weeks, I wrote an article about Edge, the controversial default browser in Win10. It's been a month or so since that article, and yes, I am still using Windows 10. I have no desire or intention to change that either. Just like with any version of Windows, I have a love-hate relationship with this one, too. There are things I really like, and then there's the one.

The biggest user end inprovement in Win10, compared to Win8(.1), is the unified user experience. Out with the schizophrenic tablet-desktop-whereamI-whoamI-whatamIdoing experience. There is not tablet UI separate from the desktop UI, at least not when running windows on a regular laptop PC. I won't say anything about Windows tables since I do not use them. The start menu is an actual menu again, a combination of menu and start screen. I really like it!

Notice the Power and Settings at the bottom of the Start menu? Another yey for those instead of that annoying right hand side hover manouver of Win8.

Search has been separated from Start to its own "menu", opened with the magnifying galss in the task bar, next to the Start icon. Windows + S shortcut key also still works.

Really, those are the biggest changes in the UI, for the common user. The only thing that truly annoys me in Win10 is its tendency to do random restarts while being in sleep mode.

Sep 30, 2015

Microsoft Edge

Oh, the things I learn! I have been working in IT with Microsoft technologies for 16 years, but they never seize to amaze me with their new awesome innovations. Take Microsoft Edge, for example.

A couple weeks ago I had my laptop's old 160GB SSD disc changed into a nice new 500GB SSD. Since anew Windows install was needed anyway, I had our intern install Windows 10 on my laptop. I quite like it. I quite like the Start menu as this combo of Win8.1 and Win7. And I like it that there is no special "tablet" side for apps, but they just open as windows on the desktop. I like it. But this is not a blog post about Windows 10; there's enough of those around the Interwebs.

No, this is a post about Microsoft Edge. 

Edge is supposed to be a grand new browser that doesn't have the issues of Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer is lacking at best. At best it is in version 11. In truth, each version has been better than the previous one, but still I have been silently (or not so) hooraying every time another one bites the dust. My worst issues with IE have naturally been with CSS and JavaScript, since I do web design. Other than that, I don't know since I don't really use it. But for a web designer, IE has mostly been a nighmare.

Ok, back to Edge. I really haven't actually had the need to test UI's in Edge too much yet. Not really at all. These past two weeks I've been doing other stuff and/or using customer environments for debugging this or that (JavaScript issues). Which means that I really haven't used Edge much for anything yet. I only now pressed F12 in it for the first time, just to see what the dev tools look like. They look the same as in IE11, except I could not find a button to attach the tools to the bottom of the browser window. What's up with that?

To that same category of "what's up with that?" goes the other thing I learned today about Edge. That would be the lack of page history in the back button! I mean, I can't be the only one in this world using the back button history menu for jumping back some and sometimes forward some likewise. But, it does not exist anymore! I googled it even! I found a couple discussion threads about it, e.g. this one in tenforums, Ok, so there ARE people as astonished by this as I am!

In those discussions others were saying that it's still there, you just access it from a different place, the lines-button and there you find history. But like someone pointed out, this is not the same damned thing! Browsing history is not the same as the back button page history! Someone else said (maybe sarcastically?) that Edge is so new, it might not have all of the features yet. C'moon Microsoft! There's absolutely no excuse!

Another thing I realised about Edge, not so long ago, is the lack of ActiveX and other legacy technology support. I would not really be sorry about that - maybe I'm not in any case - but I'm certainly surprised. Why? Because Microsoft's own core software like SharePoint still used ActiveX components for certain important functionalities. So basically Edge is no more compatible with SharePoint than, say, Chrome or Firefox. Which essentially does not mean much, since most stuff can be done in any browser.

However, Edge does have an inbuilt command in the settings menu for opening the current web site in Internet Explorer. So, wait, what? Edge has an inbuilt IE launcher? Yep. In a way, that's pretty cool, since you really can't know when you run into a wall with Edge. 

Interesting to see. Internet Explorer has not been capable of competing with browsers such as Chrome and Firefox even though its different versions are used a whole lot. This is however solely due to company policies forbidding anything else from the bulk laptops. Edge? I'm really not sure it will turn Microsoft's ship in the web browser market. It's not bad (probably). It's just not very enticing either.

Oh, and the other thing. I haven't found a way to dock the favorites bar to the top part of the window, below the address bar like I like it. Maybe I'm just too used to my old ways. Maybe I should think fresh. But I'll still stick with Chrome (and Firefox when Firebugging is required).